Why Globalization at Penn State?

I’ve been involved in planning a globalization-themed for our local Penn State educational technology professionals, and a question people are asking is “How does this apply to us?” More than a few of us have struggled to make our passion for globalization understandable, but it does still seem to be a struggle. I now realize that my default answer “Because it’s so COOL” isn’t working, so let me try this another way.


I’ve always been instinctively interested in other cultures, but if that doesn’t move or seems too “politically correct,” you may want to consider this:

  1. Penn State and other universities are trying to focus on increasing “global awareness” in students. For some people, that alone could be critical.
  2. More importantly though, we really do live in a world where nations are connected to each other. The roots of some of our most pressing domestic U.S. issues such as the war on terror, immigration, drug trafficking, job creation and loss, the weakness of the U.S. dollar, the high price of oil, pollution, weaknesses in food distribution and the fight against killer bees (to only name a few) lie outside the U.S. as well as within in it. If you ever wonder why soda pop switched from sugar to corn syrup, it’s partly because there has been a historical trend to restrict sugar imports to the U.S. to “protect” the domestic sugar industry.
  3. Have you wondered why some countries are so “uncooperative”? Understanding another culture and their political complexity can help answer that. Some reasons are be the result of negative interactions with the West that our students are unaware of, but almost as many deal with local issues. An issue can seem completely irrelevant to use, but can be to someone else.
  4. Are you interested in world peace and decreasing poverty? This also requires understanding the culture and the technology you are working with. Transplanting a system that works for us can often catastrophically fail if you don’t understand WHY it works here, but may not work “over there.”
  5. Or maybe you are interested in green technology and other important innovations. Some important ideas for improving our way of life have come from traditional cultures who understand how to flourish in different climate conditions. It’s amazing how traditional building practices in the desert/tropics can really really reduce the need for air conditioning.
  6. Maybe the most important reason to understand globalization is to understand ourselves (or as a colleague put it, “travel far to come home”). The U.S. has always been connected to other parts of the world. World events could trigger waves of immigration, and the U.S. has always needed to negotiate its relations with neighbors and superpowers. They can provide missing pieces of the puzzle (e.g. I just found out that Mexico was a critical trigger in how the U.S. entered World War I).

The History Angle

Another theme that I push is history (sometimes Bronze Age history). I am amazed at how learning an event from “before our time” impacts us today.

For instance, have you ever noticed how many plantations were in the South vs the North? It wasn’t a complete accident. Because of the English Civil War (and events from before), large landowners were fleeing for the south at one point, while in previous eras, people from different middle-class oriented religious sects (e.g. Puritan) fled to New England and the Mid Atlantic.

Well before slavery began, the roots of a cultural disconnect that led to the U.S. Civil War were beginning to form here in the U.S….all based on events in 17th-16th century Europe.

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