The question was simple: “I was wondering what your perception is of other Arabs. Thank you.” But it elicited a powerful discussion. The girl who asked it was a high school student from Egypt. She and her classmates were talking with students from Israel through a moderated videoconference taking place online.
Her question hung in the air for a few seconds, and then an Israeli boy stood and took the microphone. “We do have Arabs in our country, of course. In my opinion, we treat them as normal people.” When he finished talking, it was clear from their body language that other students were eager to weigh in.
A girl from Israel grabbed the mic. “I think Arabs have the same rights that we Jews have, but they aren’t being treated equal. That’s my opinion, at least.… There are Arabs who are great and do an excellent job and own many things, but it’s more difficult for them.”
The students in this scenario were engaged in an open and honest dialogue using a free online service called Generation Global. This secure videoconferencing platform aims to prepare youth for a globally connected future by giving them the skills and experience they need to navigate cultural and religious differences in a peaceful, respectful way.
Generation Global is being used in more than 20 countries, including the United States, to bring students from different nationalities together to learn from each other and reflect on their experiences. During this process, students learn how to communicate effectively with others who think, act, and worship differently from them—and they also learn to appreciate each other’s perspectives.
When the Israeli girl in this example acknowledged that Arabs were often discriminated against in her country, she was engaging in the kind of self-reflection and critique of her own community that can lead to positive change. We see these kinds of epiphanies among the students using our service all the time.
Learning how to get along with others who are different is critical for so many reasons. In survey after survey, employers cite teamwork as one of the skills they desire most among new hires. As companies and organizations increasingly hire and do business with people from all over the world, who embrace a wide range of cultures, faiths, and traditions, working well as a team means being able to bridge these differences successfully.
How students interact with their diverse global peers could determine how successful they are in their own careers. More importantly, it could shape the future of our society as a whole. Therefore, the ability to understand and respect others who are different—often referred to as “global empathy”—has become a critical job and life skill.
Students should be able to have open and honest conversations with others who are different, without those conversations devolving into discord. The most effective way to encourage global empathy is to provide students frequent, facilitated exposure to people from different backgrounds. They need opportunities to engage in real conversations and learn from one another. Technology can help foster this global dialogue, because it offers a fast, easy, and inexpensive way to connect students with their peers in other countries.
Videoconferencing allows students to ask and answer questions right away, enabling the conversation to flow naturally. It allows students to make personal connections with each other, to follow up on ideas they heard expressed by their peers, and to address their peers by name, face to face.
The importance of creating a safe, secure environment where students can discuss sensitive topics comfortably and respectfully cannot be overstated, and the Generation Global platform includes a number of key safeguards. Only registered students and teachers can access Generation Global, and all videoconferences are conducted with an experienced facilitator who is trained to moderate the discussion.
Generation Global videoconferences are about much more than just the technology, however. Included in the service is a comprehensive curriculum that helps teach students the essential skills of dialogue, such as active listening, critical thinking, asking good questions, and reflecting on what they have learned.
Students also learn to be non-judgmental. They come to understand that dialogue is a space where they can challenge each other’s deeply held beliefs and values, but in a productive way. Instead of saying, “You’re wrong,” for example, students learn to say: “I’m uncomfortable with x, because of y.”
Watching students converse with one another about their countries and cultures, and about their own prejudices and stereotypes, can be incredibly powerful.
At the end of the videoconference between students from Israel and Egypt, an Egyptian student named Youssef shared what he learned with the rest of the group. “First, I’d like to address that honesty was key here,” he said. “You’re very honest, and that actually opened a lot of windows into how we can talk. The second thing is, regardless (of our) historical background, regardless (of our) the borders, this is our Earth—and… we are more similar than we are different. This is our Earth, and we have to protect it. Thanks.”