Global Citizenship for the Non-Traditional Student

Stephanie Brown and Virginia Cope


After taking students from The Ohio State University at Newark to Berlin and New Orleans, we recognized the many obstacles nontraditional students face in participating in such programs, and we sought innovative ways to overcome those difficulties and prepare participants for cross-cultural encounters. We developed an approach grounded in the concept of what we call cosmopolitan courtesy. Blending the notion of everyday “civility” with the philosophical and intellectual background of the concept of cosmopolitanism, we crafted a set of classroom exercises and discussion prompts that encourage students to articulate and practice strategies for coping with unfamiliar and potentially unsettling cross-cultural experiences. This preparation positions students to take full advantage of study abroad, service learning, or domestic travel courses by inviting them to see themselves as global citizens.


Learning experiences that take students outside the classroom—whether to work at a local nonprofit, travel domestically, or tour an international city—demand a greater emotional, logistical, and financial commitment. As English professors at The Ohio State University at Newark, we discovered in developing a study abroad course to Berlin and a service-learning course to New Orleans that we needed to be more systematic in ensuring that these opportunities were feasible for all our students—not just financially, but psychologically. Our student population includes significant numbers of nontraditional, low-income, minority, and first-generation students, some of whom are returning to college after serving in the military or having children or both, most of whom balance school with full or nearly full-time jobs. For example, about 35% of freshmen entering in August 2012 identified as first-generation (the percentage is likely much higher, because that information is not required on all versions of our college application). About 25% of students identified as non-Caucasian, and 28% were older than 21. This is precisely the population least well-represented in study abroad and service-learning, and our students have given us ample evidence of why (Salisbury, 2012; Green, 2001). For many, just getting a degree is a challenge—international education seems to them like something of a pipe dream, domestic study tours a luxury or a distraction, and even local service-learning a logistical hurdle. When one of us asked a high-achieving student—first-generation, returning to school at 31 and working full-time—about her interest in an upcoming Berlin course, for example, she immediately waved her hand dismissively and said, “That’s not for me.” When pressed, she cited work and family obligations, but also her sense that those kinds of programs were not for busy, older students who did not look like the smiling, carefree young adults pictured in glossy brochures.

We were committed to expanding the reach of these experiential courses, convinced that they hold the best hope of counteracting a 20- year decline in college students’ interest in the community, others’ well-being, the environment, or even in forming a philosophy of life (Astin, 2012). To reach our own students and fulfill our campus mission, we also sought to counter the homogeneity cited in both study abroad and service-learning student populations (Salisbury, 2012; Ender, 2000). Study abroad is credited with improving college retention rates and job prospects in a globalizing economy, as well as – more loftily – shaping better citizens of the community and of the world, with the experience and sophistication to smoothly cross cultures (Tallant, 2010). Service-learning students also gain in academic performance, values, self-efficacy, leadership, and other important areas (Astin, 2000). Yet study abroad students tend “to all look alike” while service-learning often attracts white, middle-class students, contributing to the impression that such courses are simply volunteerism for the wealthy and privileged (Salisbury, 2011; Green, 2001).

In developing and leading study abroad and service-learning classes involving travel, we provided generous subsidies, scheduled carefully, and promoted our programs attentively in order to attract students with limited resources or experience. For example, we limited trips to 7–10 days because students had difficulty leaving behind work and family obligations for longer periods, and we controlled costs carefully, opting for no-frills accommodation choices, public transportation, and local tour guides arranged through friends, to keep program fees manageable. But we discovered other challenges after we had left the airport. Once in an unfamiliar culture— whether foreign or domestic—a significant number of students failed to embrace the very opportunity that they had paid dearly, and worked hard, to achieve. It became apparent that many students come to international education and even domestic travel with expectations that generally do not line up with the reality of the experience, and frequently they lack the resources to usefully process the difference. Accordingly, some students retreat emotionally or physically, or behave in ways that can only be described as rude—they laugh or made inappropriate comments; they refuse to speak or make eye contact with individuals or take refuge in an electronic device. Some reject an experience by invoking what we might call the “toddler exemption” – refusing to try something new simply because it is new. In one memorable moment in New Orleans, as an up-and-coming chef at a John Best restaurant explained the history and technique behind the cup of crab bisque being placed before them, several students recoiled and began fishing out the crab claw garnish, too involved to note the look of dismay on the chef’s face. In Berlin, students on a tour of a local mosque made audible, nervous comments about the desirability of “blowing up” the structure, while others complained that they considered such a tour “inappropriate,” given that they were not also touring a Christian church (apparently forgetting not just their manners but the fact that they had, in fact, toured a church on their first day in Berlin).

These reactions, we should note, came from smart and decent people, and from students who were relatively sophisticated and well-traveled as well as from those who were inexperienced. Because ours is a small campus, we knew these students well and had every reason to be confident in their abilities. They had written essays expressing their desire for travel, interviewed successfully with us, and often been star students in our on-campus classes. For these students, something clearly happened between formulating their desire to have intercultural experiences and the moment in which they were actually having them. They were not ready to go “off road”—and, most important, we had not prepared them to do so. We failed to anticipate that the primary reaction some students might feel upon encountering newness would be anxiety—and that they might cope with this feeling by retreating into boorishness. Instead of smoothly crossing intercultural boundaries, they fortified their isolationist positions.

To return to the example of the restaurant, we realized in hindsight that we had not prepared students appropriately for what was supposed to be one of the great treats of the week: samplings of classic New Orleans cuisine with a charismatic, native-born chef providing the history of dishes and an explanation of the restaurant’s take on them. What we had not considered was the discomfort such formality in a new city would create in the students, who had little experience in such settings, much less with such food. Unprepared, they regressed—preferring to exchange glances, raise eyebrows, and fish out crab claws to demonstrate their dismay to their peers. They bonded with each other rather than rising to the occasion with a sip of soup. Their disorientation led some into passivity (eating nothing) and others into rudeness (wrinkled noses).

Having assiduously addressed pragmatic travel issues, we now realized we needed to think more holistically about the obstacles to student learning in unfamiliar environments. The problem, we came to realize, was not one of manners; rather, the issue is that in the moment of confrontation with the unfamiliar, students suspend their understanding, often with less than optimal results. Accordingly, we developed an approach to better prepare students for cultural immersion. We developed a series of conversations and activities presenting the familiar notion of courtesy, extended to encompass its role in intercultural communication, not just as politeness but as a mode of learning.

Students, we theorized, were not revealing character flaws but responding predictably to what J. Mezirow describes as a disorienting dilemma (1997). For Mezirow, a disorienting dilemma is an opportunity for growth; it can lead to transformative learning if it causes a student to reassess his or her naturalized assumptions. However, for this to happen, the dilemma must permanently disrupt the “frame of reference” or “the structures of assumptions through which we understand our experiences…[that] selectively shape and delimit expectations, perceptions, cognition, and feelings” (p. 5). Such disruptions can be uncomfortable, even painful—and, if unprepared for, can lead students to behave reflexively in unproductive ways that prevent them from doing more than cursorily acknowledging other cultures. In another incident on the same trip to New Orleans, students were given a private tour of a Ninth Ward art gallery by award-winning photographers who had remounted the work they had rescued from Hurricane Katrina—many images distorted by water damage, adding a new layer of significance to moving portraits of subjects including Angola prison inmates and Mardi Gras Indian chiefs. Students politely observed the works but when invited to ask questions of the artists, few spoke. Most were silent; many looked away from the images and their hosts. Meanwhile, several even retreated to their phones to send text messages. A post-visit discussion made it clear that few had gleaned much from the experience beyond the most basic information about the devastation wreaked on the Ninth Ward by Hurricane Katrina, which all agreed was “sad.” Their frames of reference clearly had not shifted.

We initially developed our programs in the hope that students, when confronted by unfamiliar experiences that threatened them with disorienting dilemmas, would spontaneously undergo Mezirow’s transformative learning experience—that having confronted their own limits, they would expand their frame of reference, change their expectations of themselves or others, and with some guidance from us, engage in “critical self-reflection, which results in the reformulation of a meaning perspective to allow a more inclusive, discriminating and integrative understanding of [their] experience” (Mezirow, 1990, xvi). We discovered, however, that without strong preparation, this would be impossible, especially given the fact that ours were exclusively short-term courses. It was not feasible for students in 10 days of travel, for example, to negotiate the six stages delineated by Milton Bennett (1986) in his Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity. Nevertheless, we believed, as Aixa A. Ritz recently put it, “a short term, faculty-led study abroad program, as a course component, can be pedagogically designed to provide significant learning experiences [and] promote transformative learning” (2011).

After jointly leading a 2009 class to New Orleans, and anticipating again leading students to New Orleans (for service-learning) and to Berlin (for study abroad), we worked together on a framework to prepare students for intercultural interactions. To our Midwest students, New Orleans can seem as foreign as Berlin, and in this case we were preparing students to work closely with nonprofits that sought to preserve the city’s unique culture. It was imperative to prepare students well for interacting with people with different cultural expectations. Along with our typical preparatory efforts, we developed an approach grounded in the concept of what we decided to call “cosmopolitan courtesy.” Blending the notion of everyday “civility” with the philosophical and intellectual background of the concept of cosmopolitanism, we crafted a set of classroom exercises and discussion prompts that encourage students to articulate and practice strategies to cope with unfamiliar and potentially disturbing experiences in distant locales. The concept of cosmopolitan courtesy builds on recent work in philosophy and sociology concerning the pragmatic uses of theories of cosmopolitanism. These notions are based on Immanuel Kant’s notion of “universal hospitality,” broadly defined here as “the right of an alien not to be treated as an enemy” (Kant, 1795), but rather to be shown respect. Cosmopolitan courtesy encourages us to see every encounter with another as a “visit,” to use Kant’s term, and thus to treat others as “visitors,” even when (as in study abroad) students might reasonably consider themselves to be the ones visiting. Readings range from Kant to the work of philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah and sociologist Elijah Anderson; in-class discussions and activities allow students to process the ideas contained in the readings and to model “courteous” behaviors and reactions. Our objective is to smooth their transition from one culture to another by accustoming them to the idea of disruption and by giving them a cognitive framework to process and an arsenal of tools to deploy in the event of an anxiety-provoking situation. The result, we hope, is to empower students to view themselves not as mere observers of other cultures but as members in a global citizenry, motivated not by a desire to “study” or “help” others, but by a recognition that they are inextricably part of a global community, representatives of one or more “others” among many. This shift from being a “good student” or a “good Samaritan” to a “good citizen,”of course, informs much of the theorization of the concept of global citizenship, both in cosmopolitan and post-cosmopolitan contexts. (See Beck, 2000; Dobson, 2003; Westheimer & Kahne, 2004; and Noddings, 2005).

Our challenge was to translate the theory into a practice tailored to the specifics of our local situation. In preparing students for their travels (in both classes), we began with an exercise in which students speculated on the etymologies of the words “cosmopolite” and “polite.” Upon being told that the word “cosmopolitan” derives from the Greek words cosmos and polites and means “citizen of the world,” students may well guess that the root of the English word “polite” is “citizen” and suggest an etymological connection, perhaps that city-dwellers need to have good manners to get along with one another. Even when they are informed that the root of polite is actually the Latin “polire,” meaning to polish and suggesting that polite individuals are those without rough edges, students may still make a valuable association between notions of courtesy and world citizenship. In a nonthreatening discussion, they begin as well to recognize the possibility of “rough edges” in their interactions and their need to polish themselves into a more sophisticated manner.

Cosmopolitanism also allows a framework for practicing teamwork and professionalism among the students themselves, before they encounter situations in another city or country. An emphasis on cosmopolitanism has obvious implications for cooperative efforts in all educational settings, since, as philosopher Appiah (2006) writes, two strands intertwine in the concept:

One is the idea that we have obligations to others, obligations that stretch beyond those to whom we are related by the ties of kith and kind, or even the more formal ties of a shared citizenship. The other is that we take seriously the value not just of human life but of particular human lives, which means taking an interest in the practices and beliefs that lend them significance. …There’s a sense in which cosmopolitanism is the name not of the solution but of the challenge (p. xv).

These two elements of the cosmopolitan consciousness come together in the notion of courtesy, making the two ideas a natural fit. It is simple enough to tell students that they should be interested in the practices and beliefs of others—a curriculum that foregrounds the importance of diversity, such as that at our university, makes this clear. Yet it is much more effective to demonstrate to students the power of cosmopolitan courtesy as a model for their interactions with others generally—with other students in their classes, for example, whose backgrounds and identities may be very different from their own; with their instructors; with the authors of the texts they are reading; and even with knowledge itself. Declaring oneself “open” is fine as far as it goes; the next step is determining how to maintain one’s openness in the face of a difficult or unexpected situation.

After introducing the idea of cosmopolitan courtesy into the classroom, we ask students to suggest ways in which one indicates a willingness to show “hospitality” to another. Their suggestions generally preclude the behaviors described in the real-life examples we have given above and include positive actions that communicate a desire to bridge the gap between self and other, at least for the duration of the “visit.” Students may suggest, as indications of hospitality, that one “refuse nothing that is offered” (with exceptions, of course, for offers such as foods to which they are allergic). They may list physical manifestations of close attention, such as looking directly in the eyes of an interlocutor, or nodding. They may suggest that the best way to show interest in another person’s words is to ask a minimum of one question about whatever is said, even if the answer to the question seems obvious, since the purpose of the question in this context is as much to indicate attentiveness as to gather information. They may also, if they are preparing to go to a country in which English is not the native language, suggest learning and being strongly motivated to use (through points awarded for participation, for example) a minimum of three basic phrases useful in social situations, such as “please,” “thank you” and “you’re welcome.”

These steps seem obvious to most instructors, and indeed, once articulated, they often seem self-evident to students. Yet practicing the markers of cosmopolitan courtesy takes effort, as they discover when they begin to put their suggestions into action in the classroom in the pursuit of what may be designated, using sociologist Elijah Anderson’s term, ”cosmopolitan canopies” or safe “pluralistic spaces where people engage one another in a spirit of civility, or even comity and goodwill” (p. xiv). Anderson’s work describes urban spaces in which “people of diverse backgrounds feel they have an equal right to be there” and in which “they can observe and be observed by others, modeling comity unwittingly” (279). In such spaces, everyone becomes a Kantian “alien” and a “hospitable” resident simultaneously. In a classroom setting, where students can agree to “model comity” as a group, future participants in study abroad can use the “low-intensity” dissonance they feel as they work to articulate their own differences to practice strategies for recognizing and making sense of the higher intensity dissonance they may feel when they leave the classroom and venture out into alien territory.

In the fall semester, for the Berlin study abroad as well as service-learning in New Orleans, students are asked in the classroom portion of the course that precedes the study tour to present themselves both as individuals and as students repeatedly to the other members of the class. Introductions preceding teamwork exercises, for example, can provide opportunities for students to describe themselves to their fellow classmates in ways that foreground differences among members of the group even as they build bonds among them as a team; students may, for example, be asked to explain “one obstacle to my participation in this program that I had to overcome” or “one fear that I have about this experience” or even “one reason I never thought I would study abroad.” Encouraging students to identify a set of behaviors that they can use to perform cosmopolitan courtesy (maintaining eye contact, asking follow-up questions, etc.) and then motivating them to use those behaviors allows them to show one another hospitality and forces them to really listen to one another. Such exercises can reassure students that their honest contributions will be met with honest attempts at comprehension, and can assist in bridging gaps between traditional and non-traditional students, who may entertain stereotypical views of one another. It also accustoms them to extending their attention as a matter of course, and not merely because they have been told that “there will be a quiz,” a skill that will attune them to their surroundings and, once they reach their destination, to potential opportunities for transformative learning. “Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!” Henry James (1884) famously advised would-be writers; this maxim could also be usefully adopted by those preparing students for intercultural encounters.

Students also present research projects based on their own personal or professional interests to the rest of the class. The assumption is made that these presentations will be organized around information not already presented in the course, and that they may be only tangentially connected to the emphases of the course. Oral presentations are often unsuccessful (in all kinds of courses) because of the lack of a courteous connection between the presenter and the audience; students frequently feel that such presentations are aimed not at the class, but at the professor, and that they are merely bystanders with no obligation to do more than be physically present. The principles of cosmopolitan courtesy, however, can be used to elucidate the process by which the oral presentation can be a model for interaction with the unfamiliar, especially if students are encouraged to choose topics that are likely to be provocative in some way. In the Berlin course, students agreed that every presentation would be met with a minimum of two follow-up questions, both of which had to require that the speaker provide additional information rather than merely repeat something already said. Following this rule led to an atmosphere in which cosmopolitan courtesy was the norm—students gave presenters their full attention and devised questions about subjects of which they had previously had little or no knowledge.

This exercise proved its value once the group arrived in Berlin. On a city tour at the beginning of the program, the students saw a vocal group of protesters near the Brandenburg Gate (Figure 1) shouting what to them was the incomprehensible slogan “Free Water!” While one or two students responded inappropriately, making jokes about how they too felt like taking to the streets because German restaurants do not customarily offer diners free glasses of drinking water, one student approached a protester to ask for more information. He was rewarded with a detailed explanation of the group’s objections to the corporatization of natural resources. After thanking the group for the information and for their commitment to their cause, he returned to share what he had learned with the rest of his cohort. This led, over lunch, to his question about why he had never seen such a protest in the United States and a lengthy and spirited conversation, in which most of the group took part, about the obligations of governments, the rights of citizens, and the “proper” role of corporations.

Our approach had obvious value for short-term study abroad programs, but applying it to a longer term service-learning course carried additional challenges, since the students would be immersed in a culture that was both “familiar” (i.e., American) and largely alien (consisting of New Orleans subcultures and immigrant groups) and performing what many of them initially considered “charity” work. The 15 students would be working with three local organizations that sought to preserve the traditional culture and livelihoods of quintessentially New Orleans groups—therefore, ones that were by definition unfamiliar to our students. One was a nonprofit providing services to the fishing community, primarily comprised of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees; one representing the Mardi Gras Indian parading tradition; and a third, a folk museum that housed memorabilia from the Mardi Gras Indian culture, including the elaborate suits hand-sewn by the “chiefs.”

When putting together this ambitious yearlong service-learning course, we gave much thought to how to prepare the students for this cultural encounter, eventually deciding to provide two trips, one at the end of each semester, to the city, with the on-campus time being used to prepare them intellectually and psychologically. In December 2012, after a semester of reading, discussion, and exercises, students spent four days in New Orleans learning the city and the work of the organizations with which they would be serving. In the spring semester, they began studying Web site development and film-editing to help them create Web sites and promotional videos for their organizations. In May 2013, they returned for another week of service.

In preparation in the fall semester, students were introduced to the organizations and the social issues in which they were embedded. They watched films and documentaries on New Orleans, the Tremé neighborhood relevant to two of the projects, Hurricane Katrina, and the fishing industry. They met with New Orleans native Lolis Elie and watched the films and TV shows to which he has contributed (HBO’s “Tremé” and the documentary “Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans”). They read articles on the city’s geographical, political and cultural history, and they sampled red beans and rice. But we knew this was not enough to prepare students to set foot in the most unusual of American cities and encounter the combination of Southern hospitality, urban sophistication, and entirely unique cultural traditions (beignets, lagniappe, Mardi Gras, and more). To prepare them methodically for the culture shock and to create synergy among the members of the three teams, we also developed some exercises and workshops.

We shared with these students the familiar visual representation of culture as an iceberg of both observed and unobserved actions and beliefs and encouraged them to recognize that even so small a choice as a pair of socks reflected a cultural stake and a performance of identity. We asked them to reflect upon their own peculiar cultures— whether by neighborhood, family, class, gender, or ethnicity—and share with a small group any unique traditions that would not be understood by those outside the culture. We also then asked them to “consider an example of deep culture that has been a topic of debate between groups with differing ideologies – in the news or in your experience,” providing an example of a couple’s conflicting holiday traditions. They readily found examples from recent news stories and their own lives. These questions were meant to get the students in the analytical framework to explore cultural conflicts, moving from ones that were unthreatening to more divisive issues. Finally, after these reflection sessions, we asked the class, in groups of three, to take turns explaining a tradition or perception from their own experience that others in the group might be unfamiliar with; listening and responding to that explanation; or observing that interaction and reflecting on the rewards and challenges of the discussion. After lively discussions in small groups, several spoke of holiday traditions or described generational differences. A Vietnamese student who has spent most of her life in the United States charmed the class by bursting out with, “Well, my grandfather has seven wives and I can NEVER explain that very well to my friends!” She then proceeded to explain how she herself “made sense” of this tradition in visits to her grandfather and his wives.

In another session, we asked students, in groups of three, to brainstorm expressions of hospitality, spoken and unspoken, and then perform a short skit for the rest of the class, displaying hospitality and disrespect, however subtly. The rest of the class was asked to recognize and explain the various expressions displayed. This created some giggling as well as quite animated discussion about the necessity of maintaining eye contact and silencing phones. We also asked them some basic questions that they probably felt reluctant to ask (of the instructors) but certainly wanted answered: Why are we doing this project? What advantages does traveling to another city and working with these organizations offer us? What are your fears, concerns, anxieties, and objections? What do you think of what you have learned about New Orleans culture? Do you admire it, dislike it, fear it? Many admitted that they were quite fearful of appearing ignorant or rude to the Mardi Gras Indian chiefs or the head of the folk museum (the Backstreet Cultural Museum), and some expressed naïve hopes, such as that they would solve racism. Few at this point recognized the potential for their own emotional and intellectual growth in providing service to these organizations, as evidenced by the fact that many cited their mission as being one of service (“to help them”) rather than learning.

When we traveled with students to New Orleans in December, we were gratified to see the personal and intellectual growth they demonstrated. In four days of immersion in a city many found astounding and unnerving, not one student demonstrated the kind of discourteous or inattentive behavior we had seen in 2009, and all were deeply attentive to the cultural negotiations. In reflecting on their experiences in journals, students no longer presented themselves as privileged outsiders offering to help, but as visitors eager to learn and be a part of a community whose hospitality they much appreciated. One student who had been assigned to work with the nonprofit helping the Vietnamese fishing community admitted that he was initially little interested in the work with which we had been tasked (designing a Web site for the group). After touring Lower Plaquemines Parish with Sandy Nguyen, head of Coastal Communities Consulting, and listening to her impassioned stories, meeting Vietnamese and Cambodian fishing families in their homes, and watching workers at a local dock unload shrimp while Sandy Nguyen advised the owners on their status in the BP oil spill claim, he changed his mind. “Sandy said that when she had a Web site, she got lots of donations. Without a Web site, nothing. This place would fall apart without her. Listening to her compelled me to want to help. And that doesn’t usually happen with me,” he said. Another student in the same group said she had never considered the impact on the fishing community when prices went down. “Now I’m not happy when I see that the shrimp in the store is cheap,” she said. In the spring, students in the group reviewed film footage, photos, and their notes to create a Coastal Communities Consulting site that will attract donors, inform the community of its services, and represent the compelling story of a community devastated by Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, but fighting back.

One student participated in both the Berlin and New Orleans trips and wrote on the group Facebook page to thank her peers for their support and to reflect on the transformative experiences of her immersion in these two very different cultures. “When I was in Berlin, I learned about myself and in New Orleans, I reinforced what I learned and gained so much confidence,” she wrote, referring both to her fellow students and the people she met in the city. “Over and over again I saw how kind and generous people can be and it was a really pleasant surprise. I’ve found myself just asking people I don’t know random things to still attempt to have this connection.”

Students who were assigned to conduct filmed interviews with the Mardi Gras Indian chiefs had a moment to demonstrate their cosmopolitan courtesy. The Mardi Gras Indians are groups of African-Americans from different neighborhoods in New Orleans who traditionally have designed and sewn elaborate parade costumes each year. They parade on Mardi Gras and other festival days in honor (the legend goes) of the Native Americans who helped Africans escape slavery. The Mardi Gras Indian Council had asked the students to build a Web site and interview the chiefs to document this rich and often misinterpreted history. After the group set up elaborate film equipment at the home of one of the chiefs, an elderly African-American man, a student of Indian descent nervously began the interview. A look of annoyance crossed the chief ’s face as the student spoke. Finally, the chief burst out with “I can’t hear a word you’re saying!” The problem may have been that the student was speaking too softly, but more likely was that the chief made an assumption that the student’s Midwestern accent would be different. Rather than questioning the chief on his attitude, the student simply stepped aside and let another student take over the interview. The chief was himself not behaving with “cosmopolitan courtesy” but the student in that split second decided to set aside any embarrassment or offense he might have felt for the good of the group’s project, which in this instance was capturing this chief ’s story on videotape for posterity. Back at the hotel that night, the students had an animated discussion about the awkwardness of the moment and the skill with which it was handled. The student of Indian descent admitted his initial confusion at the chief ’s response, but also the privilege he felt in listening to his rich story.

Several other students made comments suggesting that they had come far since their early journal entries, in which they imagined themselves as charity workers. A student who worked with Sylvester Francis, the creator of the Backstreet Cultural Museum, said simply, “I feel really privileged to work with Mr. Francis, and to hear his stories personally and in depth,” as well as to help maintain his museum by cataloging the collection of Mardi Gras Indian suits and memorabilia. Another student working with the fishing community spoke of her pleasure in “seeing inside the lives and learning about what means so much to them,” while also admitting she almost did not enroll in the course (despite an attached scholarship) because of her disappointment in high school service-learning projects. “This was real service-learning,” she said, unlike her previous experiences with tasks like gardening at a nursing home that involved little interaction with the population being served.

The most moving example of cross-cultural prowess came near the end of our time in the city and in response to a frightening event. On Mother’s Day, May 12, 2013, our last day in New Orleans, four students joined a second-line parade, a traditional New Orleans event in which a brass band (the “first line”) leads followers (the “second line”) in a parade through the neighborhood. While 12 students were booked on a flight back to Ohio that afternoon, two of the students who attended the parade planned to stay another week to conduct additional research on the parading tradition. Equipped with videocameras, the students joined in the parade on that sunny Mother’s Day, enjoying the lively music, the traditional dance, and the bright yellow outfits of the sponsors, the Big 7 Social Aid and Sponsor Club. Half an hour into the parade, gunshots rang out; the students, following closely behind the musicians, fell to the ground with the crowd, then ran for cover. Nineteen people were wounded, one seriously. (Within days two brothers would be charged with attempted murder for shooting into the crowd). The students, shaken but unharmed, contacted the program leaders and were taken back to the hotel. We offered counseling and, for the two who had plans to stay in New Orleans, immediate flights home. The students after some thought chose to stay and complete their work. Even more remarkably, a month later, when back in Ohio, they posted an announcement on Facebook: They were holding a yard sale to raise funds to help the most seriously wounded of the victims, Deborah “Big Red” Cotton. The two students, financially strapped themselves, gathered items ranging from DVDs to shoes for the sale, raising $300, every dime of which they sent to the Gofundme site set up for Cotton, with “warm wishes for a quick recovery.” Clearly they saw themselves not as natives of a city or a state but of the nation and, potentially, the world.

Incorporating a thoughtful, philosophically grounded discussion of the ramifications of cosmopolitan courtesy into a study abroad or service-learning course can have wide-ranging effects. Non-traditional students may overcome significant obstacles to take part only to find that they feel distanced from fellow participants who hail from traditional student populations, and they face a greater challenge in processing the “disorienting dilemmas” that precede transformative learning. Understanding courteous interaction with unfamiliar people and experiences as not just “good manners” but as an ethical imperative and identifying and practicing a set of practical actions to “model comity” offer the student an active role in extending Kantian hospitality to those unlike himself or herself. Cosmopolitan courtesy, then, does not just show students the world: It makes them active citizens of it.


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Figure 1. OSU Newark students in Berlin got many opportunities to practice "cosmopolitan courtesy," a key concept in an OSU Newark study abroad course.
Figure 1. OSU Newark students in Berlin got many opportunities to practice “cosmopolitan courtesy,” a key concept in an OSU Newark study abroad course.

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About the Authors 

Stephanie Brown is an associate professor and coordinator in the Department of English and Virginia Cope is assistant dean and associate professor in the Department of English, both at The Ohio State University at Newark.

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