Welcome Home to the 2013 Global Travel Scholars! (Part 1)

The Global Travel Scholarship program, a partnership between the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh, The Experiment in International Living, and its parent organization World Learning, has sent more than 100 young high school students from southwestern Pennsylvania to participate in travel experiences around the world. The program is designed to provide local high school juniors, especially those from underserved districts, with the opportunity to travel abroad for a summer. Trips range from three to five weeks, and may include a community service project, language study, and outdoor adventure among others.

This year marked the 10th anniversary of the program, with twelve high school juniors participating in immersion trips across five continents. Each student stayed with a host family during part of their trip, while also studying topics ranging from biodiversity to conflict resolution.

All of the scholars have returned from their trips, and will join us for a Welcome Home Session this week to share their experiences with friends, family, teachers, and mentors. We look forward to reuniting with the scholars and learning more about these exciting adventures. For those unable to attend the reception, we invite you to read the compilation of excerpts from each scholar’s essay, on their experience and how it has influenced their life. Part one is provided below, highlighting immersion trips in Asia, South and Central America. Stay tuned for part two of this series later this week featuring trips in Africa and Europe.

 Armon Coleman – Japan

Japan 5“Each day I looked forward to the new possibility to partake in the Japanese culture.  I was able to observe amazing sights, beautiful sculptured gardens, incredible museums, sacred shrines and temples.  As a student, I attended the Sapporo Manga/Anime Gakuin to learn techniques of Anime and Magna. As an honored guest, I visited the local schools to observe the curriculum and clubs of the Japanese students.” 

Justin Hardin – South Korea

539567_696333323725412_1935789004_n “The day we visited the DMZ, we first stopped at the memorial side of it. There was a field filled with sculptures and windmills that represent peace. We also walked through a tunnel that North Korea created in order to launch an attack on South Korea after the DMZ was built. After we saw a quick Korean War video and took many more pictures, we finally went to the Neutral zone overlook. Once I was there looking at the neutral zone and the edge of North Korea, I began to seriously comprehend the reality of the situation of North and South Korea, and for the first time I actually began finding answers to the questions we were all asked about peace.”

Taizhae Howell – China

taizhae great wall of china“We went to visit the Great Wall of China. Upon arrival I didn’t know what to expect. All I could picture were the images inside of textbooks and in documentaries. We got to the tourist area and there was no wall in sight. I was so confused; little did I know we had some climbing to do. After about two hours of climbing over mountains we finally made it to the wall. I was overwhelmed by so many emotions; I had a paralyzed smile on my face. It is the most amazing thing I have seen with my own eyes; pictures do not do it justice.” 

Chelsea Geruschat – Argentina

arg-3“In today’s society the motto is ‘time is money.’  So if we aren’t working or running around like crazy people, we aren’t doing anything productive according to some predetermined social standards.  In Argentina, whether it was talking to local students in Buenos Aires, bonding with your host family in Salta, doing service work in Chicoana or riding horses from the Finca Santa Anita these standards didn’t matter anymore.”   

Josh Patton – Peru

image_2“I can recall the first time I took the “micro.” Basically, it is a utility van that has been gutted, with the insides replaced with seats that have been bolted to the floor (it seats around twelve comfortably.) A man hangs out of the door on the side, shouting the names of neighborhoods that it services. It costs one Perúvian Nuevo sol, the equivalent of about $0.30, and it will take you almost anywhere you want to go. My host sister waved it down, and it pulled up beside us. I took one glance inside, and my heart dropped into my stomach. There were about twenty people crammed inside, all mashed together like sardines. I am extremely claustrophobic. The man in the door shouted, “¡Sube!” which is the Spanish equivalent of “Hop on!” I had no other choice but to pack myself in with the rest of the people. I was not in any danger, just extremely uncomfortable and anxious. However, by the end of the trip, small spaces no longer bothered me. I had overcome my claustrophobia.”

Katelyn Ripple – Costa Rica

DSCF1260“My trip to Costa Rica taught me many things that have changed the way I want to live. From living on a sustainable agricultural farm, hiking through the rainforest, gaining another family, watching sea turtles give birth, zip lining, scuba diving, and just enjoying the Costa Rican shoreline, I could not begin to describe all of the wonderful things I experienced. Even though the rainforest and the homestay were my favorite parts of the trip, every day in Costa Rica contains a beautiful memory I want to share with the world.”


Back to School from Around the World

Back to school fever has officially hit the United States! Over the next few weeks, children across the country will be heading off to school for the start of another exciting academic year. Days will be filled with courses in English, math, science, and history among many others, where students will prepare themselves for life beyond the classroom walls. The same holds true for countries around the globe. While the structure, schedules and styles may differ, one thing that remains constant is the importance of a child’s opportunity to learn. Organizations worldwide including the United Nations Children Fund , the Global Campaign for Education, and the Global Women’s Fund, among countless others are working hard to ensure this right to education remains available to all children around the world.

To provide a better understanding of how students learn in other parts of the world, we’ve pulled some fun and interesting facts from places as close as Mexico and as far away as South Korea. They have been grouped by geographic region for your convenience.


Map courtesy of National Geographic

The education system found in many European countries is perhaps most similar to what we follow here in the United States. Academic years begin in the fall, with start dates ranging from mid-August to late-September depending on the country. Students typically begin their day between 8am and 9am, and can go as late as 5pm. Most European countries place a strong emphasis on testing. For example, students in France are required to take and pass the extensive three part Baccalaureate exam to attend a university. Additionally, in Poland, students are required to complete an external exam once they have finished one of their many schooling levels (primary, lower secondary, etc.).

Additional facts about education in Europe:

  • In France, schools are traditionally closed on Wednesday, with required half day classes offered on Saturdays.

  • In Finland, school days are actually shorter than here in the United States, and students receive a 75 minute break for recess each day. Further, students are not subject to rigorous exams and rarely receive more than an hour worth of homework each night.

  • In Germany, vocational training carries the same significance as university studies. Through a dual educational system, vocational students are able to work as apprentices and receive hands on training related to their studies. Following graduation, these positions may result in full-time job opportunities.

  • In Poland, students choose their final educational path prior to graduation. These vary from three year vocational studies to a three year upper secondary school path, or both.


Map courtesy of National Geographic

Back to school time in Asia varies depending on the country. South Korea and Japan, for example, start their year in the spring, whereas China, Hong Kong and Russia begin in September. The structure and style of teaching in Asia also differs across the region. East Asian schools like those in South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong are known for their strict education and extensive testing culture. Alternatively, Russia follows a system closer to that of its European neighbors and requires testing as part of the admission requirement for a university education.

Additional facts about education in Asia:

  • In Hong Kong, class sizes can be large, with as many as 42 kids in each classroom. Some teachers must use microphones to ensure their lessons are heard. This makes one-on-one and small group time between teachers and students difficult.

  • In Japan, it is normal for parents to pay for their children to attend after school tutoring sessions, or Juku. These “Cram Schools” are rigorous, and are intended to either complement a student’s classroom instruction, or prepare them for the extensive testing needed to enter private school, high school or even university.

  • In Russia, there are roughly 16 students in each classroom, and the students remain in the same class over the course of their education which ends at grade ten. Students have the option of completing their eleventh and twelfth grades through vocational studies to learn trade skills, or take the time to prepare for their university entrance exams.

  • In South Korea, testing is so prominent, cities and towns literally come to a standstill on testing days. In fact, traffic is stopped and planes are diverted in some places to minimize noise.

Middle East and Africa

Map courtesy of National Geographic

The Middle East and Africa encompass two hemispheres, resulting in a number of different school years and educational systems. Nigeria and South Africa follow a twelve-month schedule beginning in January, while Iran follows a similar calendar to that found in the United States. Schools in this region also differ in terms of courses taught and the quality of resources provided. Conflict and poverty in many of these regions have made it difficult for children to receive a quality education. Limited resources, lack of schools, and a declining number of qualified teachers have had a major impact on the quality of education provided.

Additional facts about education in the Middle East and Africa:

  • In Nigeria, traditional classes (language studies, math, etc.) are coupled with courses on religion, agriculture and economics. This is done over the course of three terms with month long holidays at each break.

  • In Iran, students are required to pass an exam each year in order to move to the next grade level. Additionally, girls and boys are educated separately up until they enter university.

  • In South Africa, education is required for students up to, and including grade nine. Grades 10-12 are available to those who wish to continue with upper secondary school and prepare for their university entrance exams. Students also have an option of following a vocational track.

The Americas

Map courtesy of National Geographic

Schools systems throughout North, Central and South America differ in terms of size, length of school year, and quality of education. Canada is vastly similar to the United States, in their schooling structure and schedules. Greater differences occur as you move south into Central and South America, especially where resources have become strained. In Mexico for example, classrooms are overcrowded, and students are often times expected to share computers and other classroom resources. Even in parts of Brazil, financial strain has forced some schools to eliminate elective courses (art, music, etc.) from their curriculum.

Additional facts about education in the North, Central and South America:

  • In Costa Rica, the school year runs from February through December. Students are required to complete nine years of formal education, with college beginning at age fifteen.

  • In Mexico, the school year runs from September through June. The school week lasts Monday through Friday, with elective classes on Saturday.

  • In Brazil, a typical school day runs from 7am until noon, at which time students head home to share lunch with their family.

What’s In A Name? Myanmar (Not Burma)


You might be familiar with 1953 Four Lads song which chides, “If you’ve got a date in Constantinople / She’ll be waiting in Istanbul,” humorously gesturing toward the fact that Istanbul’s former names – Constantinople or even Byzantium – are utterly dated. For other places in the world, though, the misuse of names is not always laughable, and can extend itself as far as to foster severe political tension. Myanmar, the small Southeast Asia country with which the U.S. formally reduced sanctions last summer, is one such example.

Myanma, the name of the country out of the mouth of its residents since the 12th century, was adopted into the English language as Myanmar. During British occupation in the country, though, the name was temporarily switched to Burma, a name that the United States held on to even after the country itself returned to Myanma, verbalizing the country’s separation from British colonial rule.

It was a 1989 military ruling that returned Myanmar to English vocabulary, as generals with an eye for becoming true nationalists passed the Adaptation of Expression Law, declaring that English names must match their Myanmar origin. Opponents of this military rule, including the U.S., continued to say Burma in an effort to deny the legitimatization of the country’s rule, a stance refashioned only in the past year as a result of United States’ improved relations with the country.

Lastly, the name Burma stands to represent the Bamar ethnic majority, while Myanmar includes all eight of the country’s major ethnic groups. Just as the song suggests that making a date in Constantinople is a humorous misnomer, so too is making a date in Burma, because the girl might just be waiting in Myanmar.

By Samantha Harper, World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh Intern

2012 – Year of the Dragon

Happy Lunar New Year!

Often called the “Chinese New Year,” Lunar New Year celebrations took place yesterday across many countries in East and Southeast Asia.  2012 represents the year of the dragon, a zodiac sign that is considered to be one of the most powerful and is associated with “high energy and prosperity.”

To learn more about this year’s Lunar New Year celebrations (both in the U.S. and abroad), please check out the articles, videos, and photos listed below.

Year of the Dragon Brings Promise of Change (CBC News | Canada) An in-depth look at Lunar New Year and the beliefs surrounding the dragon zodiac sign, including several pictures from celebrations around the world.

Happy Chinese New Year: Millions Welcome Year of the Dragon (Mail Online) – Fantastic imagery from celebrations around Asia

Video – NYC Celebrates Chinese Lunar New Year (Washington Post) – A short video of celebrations that took place in New York City

Bill Would Create School Holiday for Lunar New Year (New York Times) – A short article about efforts to create a holiday for the New York City public schools in honor of “the Asian community’s most important and greatest holiday.”

Throwing a Chinese New Year Party in Pittsburgh (CBS Pittsburgh) – This article identifies ways to create your own Lunar New Year celebration, including some great local restaurants and grocery stores available here in Pittsburgh.

Great International Resources for Students & Teachers

We at the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh are always looking for ways to help out our students and teachers learn more about the world. In that vein, we have put together a list of some of our favorite online educational resources. These links include a wide range of information, including facts, photos, videos, podcasts, books, discussion boards, and lesson plans.

We have identified some general international resources at the top of the list. After the break, you’ll find information and resources relating to Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.


 CIA World Factbook An excellent compilation of country facts (i.e. population, geography, etc.).

CNN for Teachers and Students Spotlights the day’s current events and offers printable quizzes, discussion questions, and maps.

National Geographic Kids A variety of resources are present on this website, including an online atlas with road, satellite, physical, and theme maps (population density, weather, and natural resources) as well as country profiles and pictures from around the world.

New York Times for Teachers and Students This blog highlights the day’s events, but also offers everything from lesson plans for teachers and comment boxes for students.

Outreach World This website offers a wealth of information for teaching students about the world. Under ‘Download Instructional Materials,’ it is possible to search for lesson plans by region of the world and age group.

PBS for Teachers Exclusively for teachers, this site acts as a network for lesson planning, programming, and resource guides.

PBS News Hour for Teachers and Students Offers lesson plans for teachers, but is also a great resource for students looking to comment on and follow world events.

Peace Corps World-Wise Schools Also provides lesson plans and resources created by Peace Corps volunteers around the world.

 Time for Kids Interactive and informative, and is applicable to teachers and students. The site has sections with age-specific material.

Region-specific resources can be found after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

Year in Review: International Affairs in 2011

Happy New Year, everyone! 2012 is off to a snowy start here in Pittsburgh, and this seems like a perfect time to review what has happened over the past 360-some odd days.

As always, the global stage was full of tumult and change: 2011 saw the deaths of influential world figures (Warren Christopher, Muammar Gaddafi, Vaclav Havel, Steve Jobs, Kim Jong-Il, and Osama bin Laden, for example); uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa; the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq; devastating natural disasters (earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand, typhoon in the Philippines, floods in south-east Asia, and famine in the Horn of Africa); and economic crisis in Europe.

We’ve scoured the web to find some of the best of the “2011 in Review” resources, and compiled them below. Are there any we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments.

2011 Year in Review (Reuters): Photos and descriptions of the most important news stories of the year, including a dramatic 60-second multimedia video presentation of the key stories, and some of the top images from 2011.

Best Articles of 2011 (Foreign Policy Magazine): Although not necessarily highlighting the most important news stories of the year, here are the most-read articles from foreignpolicy.com in 2011.

Best International Relations Books of 2011 (Foreign Affairs): In every issue of Foreign Affairs, scholars review recent academic and nonfiction books.  At the end of 2011, the reviewers were asked to select the best ones.  Here you will find the best books in a number of categories, including: Western Europe; the Middle East; the Western Hemisphere; Eastern Europe; Economic, Social, and Environmental Subjects; Asia; Africa; the United States; Military, Scientific, and Technological Subjects; and Political and Legal Subjects.

Personal Favorites from 2011 (A Realist in an Ideological Age): Stephen M. Walt is a professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and writes a blog, A Realist in an Ideological Age, for Foreign Policy.  In this post, he shares his favorite blog posts from the past year, all of which are worth a read.

Shots Seen ‘Round the World (Foreign Policy Magazine): Fifty of the best/most important photographs from 2011, as selected by Foreign Policy.

Top 5 Foreign Policy Books in 2011 (Foreign Policy Association): The FPA asked its staff, editors, writers and bloggers to select the best books about foreign policy. Here is what they came up with.

Top 5 International Documentaries of 2011 (Foreign Policy Association): The FPA asked its staff, editors, writers and bloggers to select the best international documentaries on issues related to U.S. foreign policy. Here is what they came up with.

Twitter’s 2011 Year in Review (Twitter): It is no secret that social media is playing an increasing role in current events. Here is a look at some of the key stories, hot topics, and important moments of 2011 — as seen on Twitter.

Your Top 10 Stories of 2011 (The Guardian): Links to the top ten news stories of the year, as selected by readers.

The Year in Foreign Policy (Foreign Policy Association): The FPA looks at several key foreign policy events that promise to shape the coming year, including the 2012 election.

Year in Review (Foreign Policy Blogs Network): The FPA’s blog network has a number of great, topic-specific “Year in Review” posts, all of which can be found here. Read about 2011 in Russia or Israel, or the year in Global Food Security or War Crimes (to name just a few).


Day 5 at the SSWA: Asia

Chinese President Hu Jintao and US President Barack Obama

To wrap up the week, the Summer Seminar students welcomed Dennis Unkovic, Esq., an international lawyer who is an expert on Asia. Today he discussed the continent’s history, its current risks and US interests in the region. During his talk, he invited a lot of participation from students, saying that his role was to help them connect the ideas from information that they already know.

He began by dividing Asia’s history up into three periods. First, from 1545 to 1945, Asia was dominated by colonial powers. The terrible treatment Asian nations received at the hands of the imperialists left a lasting impression that continues to underlie current relations with the West. Meanwhile, in reaction to imperialism, Japan entered a period of sustained isolationism. Japan was also important for the role it played in World War II, since the US joined the war after Pearl Harbor.

The second period from 1945 to 1980 saw the success of Japan as it rebuilt its economy after the end of the war. The government led this process, deciding which industries to fund, a process which was repeated to much success in other Asian countries later. The US also experienced declining influence on the continent, especially after the Vietnam War and economic recession of the 70s.

Finally, since 1980, the economies of Korea, the Asian Tigers (Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore and Malaysia) and especially China have experienced dramatic growth.India also followed this path, albeit somewhat later.

Should the US be worried that the Chinese economy is set to become the largest in the world by 2022? Read the rest of this entry »