Culturally Responsive Teaching

3 Ways to Introduce International Civics to Your Students

Engaging with different cultures allows high school students to develop an empathetic and globally inclusive perspective.

June 25, 2024
arthobbit / iStock

When considering civics education, most teachers understandably gravitate toward American events and politics. However, studying and engaging in experiential learning with international civics help students develop into global citizens. This not only builds a better understanding of geographic knowledge and international affairs, but also fosters empathy for different people and cultures. There are a number of ways to begin this classroom exploration! 

1. Form a Partnership With a Consulate  

I recently began partnering with the Mexican Consulate in San Diego, which has opened doors to a number of unique events and student experiences that wouldn’t otherwise be available. Foreign countries maintain an embassy (main headquarters) in Washington, D.C., and other smaller consulate satellite offices across the country. While it would be great to work directly with an embassy, you’re more likely to find a willing and able partner in a consulate that is more focused on community outreach and events. 

When deciding which consulate to contact, consider the population of your school and surrounding community, as you might garner more interest from a consulate with individuals of origin well represented in your community. The benefit of partnering with a consulate is that not only are they an excellent partner for a project you already have in existence or want to create, but also they’re privy to a number of programs already in existence that you can join. 

First, establish contact with the consulate. You can find the consulate staff directory on their website. You might begin with the staff member charged with community or cultural affairs. When I reached out to the Mexican Consulate, I identified myself as a local high school teacher and made it clear that I wanted to partner with their office to help with their existing outreach programs. After I established contact, the consul for community affairs, Ana Ochoa, met with me and has been particularly helpful in discussing partnership ideas for the upcoming school year. 

The Mexican Consulate is looking to involve my students in their community outreach events. For example, the consulate hosts a textbook donation program where they distribute Spanish-language textbooks for grades one through 12 in the subjects of history, geography, and social science. These typically go to schools and libraries, but the consulate is looking for assistance in identifying appropriate students and parents to receive these books. This is also a great opportunity to involve your students in the process and have a student service learning group involved in this distribution process. 

Additionally, the consulate hosts student contests and scholarships that are perfect for student engagement. They offer a scholarship for first-generation San Diego County college applicants of Latino or Mexican heritage that is often not on high school seniors’ radar. They also host a drawing contest for 8- to 13-year-old students—awarding prizes for pieces related to Mexican culture. This is a perfect activity for elementary and middle school students.

2. Develop an International Partner Project 

Although writing to pen pals abroad might not be as popular as it was before, a partnership with an international school is an excellent way to connect your students to international peers so that they form a genuine bond with a student from a different background and learn about a new culture directly from the source.

This past year, I partnered with Ilok Secondary School in Ilok, Croatia. To do so, I first reached out to the U.S. Embassy in Croatia and explained that I was looking to partner with a Croatian high school for a joint government class project. They connected me to Cassy Prskalo, a teacher at Ilok Secondary School.

After discussing our project goals, we created the Croatian-American Government Analysis Project. In the project, the students compared the political systems in the United States and Croatia and critically reflected on the advantages and disadvantages of the systems at the national, regional, and local levels. They also discussed the position of young people in society and opportunities for civic engagement for youth in both countries.

Cassy and I first assigned our students in pairs, connecting the pairs via email. After communicating via email, the students connected with each other (twice a week for three weeks) by recording short videos on Flipgrid, introducing themselves to get better acquainted, and sharing their prior knowledge of the political systems of the partner schools’ countries. Flipgrid was a great medium, as with the time difference, a live call was difficult, and getting to see and hear their partners was an added bonus. Luckily, the Croatian students were fluent in English, so there were no language barriers.

My students then created presentations on the United States’ political system and its measures for youth, which they shared with their Croatian peers. Finally, my students collaborated with their Croatian counterparts to write research papers highlighting the similarities and differences in the political systems of both countries and presented their own opinions on the position of youth. 

Students wrote a 200- to 250-word research paper with their partner (using Google Docs) in which they compared Croatian and American political systems. The students divided their research paper into clear paragraphs, each one focusing on one aspect of the comparison.

Next, the students investigated the roles and responsibilities of state and local governments and discussed any significant variations in their powers. Lastly, the students examined the position of teens and young adults in terms of the right to vote, college tuition, student loans, scholarships, military service, job opportunities, taxation, and housing policies for young people in both countries.

To conclude, students summarized the key findings of their comparison. They also included their own opinions on whether young people are in a better position in Croatia or America and supported their opinions with arguments. Finally, students presented their final project to their classmates in their home countries and received constructive feedback from their respective teachers.

3. Foster Global Citizenship Through Diplomacy

Partnering with a consulate and creating an international partner project are outstanding ways to immerse students in international civics, but keep your eye out for local organizations in your area like the San Diego Diplomacy Council, which works with local students to promote international programming. Last spring, the San Diego Diplomacy Council hosted the Binational Youth Summit, where 200 high school students and high school teachers from San Diego and Tijuana gathered to explore international affairs and diplomacy while developing binational relationships and activating the next generation of global leaders.

Share This Story

  • email icon

Filed Under

  • Culturally Responsive Teaching
  • Community Partnerships
  • Project-Based Learning (PBL)
  • Social Studies/History
  • 9-12 High School

Follow Edutopia

  • facebook icon
  • twitter icon
  • instagram icon
  • youtube icon
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
George Lucas Educational Foundation
Edutopia is an initiative of the George Lucas Educational Foundation.
Edutopia®, the EDU Logo™ and Lucas Education Research Logo® are trademarks or registered trademarks of the George Lucas Educational Foundation in the U.S. and other countries.