I love books.

I can’t say that I actually love the act of reading the books, but I love books themselves, and particularly the stories and ideas their pages hold. I love being able to unlock an author’s secrets simply by opening a cover.

Books served two purposes in my childhood: the first, to transport me into strange worlds and unknown places. Whether I followed Lucy through the wardrobe in the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis or held my breath waiting for the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter, the stories were exhilarating.

The second purpose, though, was to provide knowledge. The older I grew, the more I revered the knowledge I gleaned from my books, which enabled me to succeed in school and, as a bonus, helped me hold semi-intelligent conversations. This knowledge opened the gateways of opportunity.

Fast-forward several years to my post-college life. I stood at the front of a sparsely decorated classroom, with cords snaking across the floor connecting my lonely laptop to a semi-functional projector and screen. A few months earlier I’d received a piece of paper declaring me qualified to supervise the education of high school children. The entire summer, I dreamed about how I would make history come alive for my students through books and activities, and I firmly believed that the knowledge I could give them through reading would change their lives.

For some of my students, maybe it was life changing. But more often than not, when my students looked up at me from their desks during that first year of teaching, I could tell that my books and stories far from enamored them. They saw a distinct disconnect between my books and their real lives.

As I began to critically examine my own expectations and beliefs about education in order to reach my students, I considered which part of my own education had prepared me most for life; I was faced with a realization that challenged my literary obsession. Despite the fact that in my mind, learning had always been synonymous with book knowledge, the true learning that took place for me occurred outside of this direct knowledge transfer. It came from real life experiences, in which I interacted with the environment, the people around me, and the communities I lived in.

Within that first year, I’m certain my students taught me more about education than I taught them about history. As I adapted to my new environment—an adult TCK who had stumbled into a small public high school in rural North Carolina—I came to realize the following:

  1. Much of education comes from experiences outside of the classroom. I had been taught social skills, societal skills, critical thinking skills, leadership skills, and many other things to supplement that fact that “in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” But outside of the classroom, some of the best parts of my education came from living in a high school dorm for 10th-12th grade, collaborating with a group on a video for my senior year English project, playing on the soccer team with other girls and traveling to the Philippines on a mission trip.
  2. Living cross-culturally provided a different kind of education. As valuable as knowing about the process of photosynthesis was and debating why the United States had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, interacting with people of different ethnicities, backgrounds, religions, and worldviews had taught me more things than I could learn from my books. These interactions had equipped my classmates and me to adapt and problem solve.
  3. Education can and should vary, based on need. The education that I received as a TCK in Taiwan was different than that of an American public school student in the United States. Because our needs in a missionary school were different. That doesn’t mean that everyone shouldn’t get the best education possible, but that education should be right for the student population that a school is serving. When I tried to teach my students in North Carolina the way I had been taught in Taiwan, they looked at me like I truly was an alien. The more relevant the classroom became, the more engaged they grew in the material.

This is not to disregard the knowledge that we gain through the transmission of information, whether through reading or lecture, and I firmly believe that literacy is essential to educational success. But to view those things as education in isolation is to eliminate a large piece in the complete puzzle.

Admittedly, I’m no longer a classroom teacher, but I still believe that a complete education is one of the most powerful tools we can give to people and that a fuller understanding of education has the power to impact humanity for a greater good. Moreover, people who have lived cross-culturally can supply important skills when it comes to real life in our globalizing world.

So where does that leave us in terms of education, particularly as it relates to the global nomad, TCK, and multi-cultural educator? Over the next weeks and months, we’ll explore that question from a few different angles. We’ll hear from people who have developed ideas that dig deeper into cross-cultural and global education, as well as share resources that seek to accomplish the following:

  • Explore education around the world to expand our understanding of what quality education means. Education for one person or community may not look the same as education for another person. What does that mean when we begin to compare education across countries, or for TCKs?
  • Discuss how education fits into a TCKs life and how they can leverage their education beyond the classroom. TCKs enter the work force with a unique set of skills based on their diverse upbringing. How does this connect to the classroom or go beyond the classroom?
  • Anticipate how the TCK or global nomad’s knowledge and background can impact educational change worldwide. With their cross-cultural experience, TCKs are uniquely positioned to be able to bridge worlds. What does this look like?

The world is changing, and education is changing with it. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are indeed still important (especially if you’re studying under the United States’ Common Core standards!). But when we look at the broader education that we can give to ourselves and to each other, it’s crucial to provide real life skills. Whether that means giving our students experiences, adjusting education for our students, or teaching our students to respond to our diverse world, let’s begin to explore what a globalized education means, for the TCK and for all global citizens.