Global Connections: Where Am I? How Did I Get Here? Where Am I Going?


Chadwick F. Alger

Where Am I?

Education must begin by asking the right questions. In global education, the first question is: Where Am I? When students are asked this, they find the answer so obvious that they may be inclined to ponder the sanity of the questioner. Clearly, they live at a specific address, in a certain town or city, in a particular state, in a definite country. In other words, they recognize where they are located spatially in terms of the global political network. But when the question is pushed further, extending to where they are in the global economic and social networks, the answer becomes more complicated.

Take food. After only gentle prodding, students will tell you that the beef in their McDonald’s hamburger likely came from Argentina, their morning coffee originated in Colombia, their breakfast banana was grown in Central America, and their winter tomatoes and strawberries may have come from Mexico. These examples are followed by a torrent of others, pressing home the awareness that we are at the vortex of a complicated array of transnational agricultural networks.

But that’s only the beginning. What about our clothes? Our shoes from Romania and Italy, shirts from China and India, blouses from Malaysia and Indonesia, skirts from Guatemala and Singapore, trousers from Pakistan and Nicaragua, jewelry from Africa and everywhere else. Clothes that are not actually made abroad may be tailored in the United States with imported fabric. Thus, we are dressed by a complex global network of raw material providers, fabric weavers, tailors, and marketers.

Inevitably, in a group of teenagers, the discussion moves on to automobiles. Someone may humorously remark that his or her family’s serviceable—but unglamorous—family van recently turned into a Mercedes. He or she may point to the other big auto merger—Volkswagen with Audi—or to such foreign imports as Toyota, Saab, and BMW. Before long, we are thinking of the Honda plant only thirty miles away, and the vast array of other Japanese plants in Ohio that supply it. The next step is looking under the hoods of cars made in America to identify parts imported from abroad.

Clearly, as we sit in any automobile, we are unavoidably at the hub of a multifarious global network of mining, parts manufacture, design, assembly, transportation, finance, advertising, and investment. And, we have yet to ponder the far flung networks of prospectors, field hands, pipelines, tankers, and trucks that provide the gas and oil required for us to drive.

These economic networks have important social implications, giving rise to the question of what social networks we belong to that involve global connections. We might consider:

n the latest flu virus that swept the school despite the efforts of doctors worldwide to control epidemics

n the factory that moved offshore, leaving new jobless people in its wake

n school testing used to compare the achievement of U.S. students with their peers abroad

n the local news and its nonstop coverage of crime, often involving illegal trade in guns and drugs

n the worldwide voyage of the new Titanic

Eventually, we may be inclined to look around our own classroom, and discover how many of our companions have come from some other place on the globe—perhaps Bosnia, Somalia, Mexico, Haiti, or Russia.


How Did I Get Here?

Our second question flows naturally from the first. For recent immigrants, response to the question is quite literal, and may involve flight from war or oppression, the search for a better life, or the effort to reunite a family. These motives recall the experience of many of our ancestors in our “nation of immigrants.” With the exception of Native Americans, we can all trace our roots to the migration of peoples—whether voluntary or forced—from other parts of the globe.

Global connections and the movements of peoples across the earth are not new, but rather, among the most continuous phenomena of history. As early as the first century A.D., networks of contact existed between the Roman Empire in the western hemisphere and the Chinese Han Empire in the eastern hemisphere.1 Within this vast ecumene of human habitation moved peoples, animals (poultry and Iranian great horses), plants (citrus, cherries, and almonds), trade goods, disease germs, forms of communication, religions, the arts, science and technology, and, not least, ideas about the nature of human beings.

Our own nation was created by the great outward thrust of European people and culture in the 16th century. These people used advanced technology to explore, and then to dominate, all or vast parts of other continents: the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Although we acquired our independence from England in the 18th century, only in the second half of the 20th century did most colonies achieve political, if not economic, independence. Now modern communications technology is causing people everywhere to become more immersed in global society.

It’s easy for students to grasp the boundless nature of human culture when considering the arts, and especially music. They don’t need to be taught the African roots of jazz, rock, and rap, or the Caribbean roots of reggae. They are aware of the diverse origins of the Beatles, the Scorpions, and Ziggy Marley. Asian musical instruments—such as the Indian zitar—are becoming more familiar in the United States, even as Asian cultures are imbibing the European classical music tradition with unbridled enthusiasm. The pervasive reach of music reflects the new permeability of all territorial boundaries.


Where Am I Going?

The value of global education becomes most apparent in the context of our third question: Where Am I Going? This question can be considered on many levels. What is the impact of global economic development—in which the United States is so heavily involved—on the environment, the economic well-being of populations, human rights, and outbreaks of violence? What social networks—here and elsewhere—are affected by, or capable of affecting, these economic developments? What kind of world will students help to create through their own participation in global networks?

Pondering these questions can help students become more aware that the issues raised by economic globalization involve the common interests of all of the world’s people. Prominent among these issues are economic progress or poverty, labor conditions, population growth, human rights, cultural survival, and the development of a sustainable environment. These questions, which often pit interest groups against each other, are part of the foreign policy debate at the national level. They are also the substance of negotiations between and among nations.

Groups dedicated to the proposition that one must “think globally and act locally” are a growing force in global society. Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and their local links have become nodes in transnational social movements to address global problems. For example, Amnesty International, the Sierra Club, the Rotary Club, Zonta, and the U. S. Chamber of Commerce all have local links. They and other NGOs also take part in United Nations conferences and constitute an important part of the UN system. NGO leadership has been of special importance in provoking the member states of the United Nations to act on environmental and human rights issues.2

Illusions of detachment from the UN system may be quickly dispelled if one considers a list of United Nations agencies and their functions (see the box on page 283). It makes evident how fully the world is enveloped in social and economic networks shaped by UN multilateral bodies—some with roots stretching far back into the nineteenth century. As citizens of the United States, we are also pledged to uphold the ideals embodied by UN Covenants to which the United States has agreed (for example, Rights of the Child, Rights of Refugees, and Prevention of Racial Discrimination).

Response to the three questions posed in this article thus brings us to consider the nature of global governance—including the UN system and recent proposals for change. For example, some have suggested the creation of a second UN General Assembly directly elected by the world’s people in order to increase responsiveness to global problems.3 Others suggest that the highly decentralized growth in NGO involvement in the United Nations system adequately represents the diverse interests of the world population.4

Eventually, thinking about Where Am I Going? may cause students to begin defining their own personal visions of a preferred world. Hopefully, they will approach this task with a better understanding of their relatively privileged place in the world, and the recognition that their choices may bear special weight with regard to many global issues. Given that we are unavoidably part of the problem, we can also choose to be part of the solution. v



1. William McNeil, The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963).

2. Chadwick F. Alger, “Citizens and the UN System in a Changing World,” in Yoshikazu Sakomoto, Global Transformation: Challenges to the State System (Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 1994), 301-329.

3. Erskine Childers and Brian Urquhart, Renewing the United Nations System (Uppsala, Sweden: Dag Hammarskjold Foundation, 1994), 171-181.

4. Chadwick F. Alger, “Thinking About the Future of the UN System,” Global Governance 2, No. 3 (1996), 335-360.


Chadwick F. Alger is Mershon Professor of Political Science and Public Policy Emeritus, The Ohio State University.

Some Agencies of the United Nations System


FAO Food and Agriculture Organization (—Rome, Italy: works to alleviate poverty and hunger by promoting agricultural development, improved nutrition, and food security—the access of all people at all times to the food they need for an active and healthy life.


ICAO International Civil Aviation Organization (—Montreal, Canada: helps pilots from different countries to fly safely in each other’s air space and land in local airports.


ILO International Labor Organization (—Geneva, Switzerland: develops, implements, and monitors international labor standards.


IMO International Maritime Organization (—London, England: oversees maritime safety and prevents pollution from ships.


ITU International Telecommunications Union (—Geneva, Switzerland: ensures orderly global communications networks by assigning frequencies and satellite orbits.


UNDP United Nations Development Programme (—New York, U.S.: builds developing nations’ capacities for sustainable human development and is chief coordinator of technical cooperation for development provided by the entire UN system.


UNEP United Nations Environment Program (— Nairobi, Kenya: provides leadership and encourages partnerships for bringing emerging environmental issues and problems of international and regional significance to the attention of the world community.


UNESCO United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (—Paris, France: supports development of global education in all academic disciplines.


UNHCR United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (—Washington, D.C.: protects refugees and promotes the adoption and implementation of international human rights standards for the treatment of refugees.


UNICEF United Nations Children’s Fund (—New York, U.S.: works to provide health care, clean water, improved nutrition, and education to millions of children throughout the world.


UNIFEM UN Development Fund for Women (— New York, U.S.: promotes women’s empowerment and gender equality throughout the world.


UPU Universal Postal Union (—Berne, Switzerland: ensures delivery of mail throughout the world.


WHO World Health Organization (— Geneva, Switzerland: strives to provide the highest possible level of physical, social, and mental health to all peoples by such means as UN conventions, recommendations about public health practices, and international standards for foods and drugs.


WIPO World Industrial Property Organization (—Geneva, Switzerland: protects patents and copyrights of, for example, CDs, computers, and medicines.


WMO World Weather Watch program of the World Meteorological Organization (—Geneva, Switzerland: facilitates global collecting and sharing of weather data.