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Bill Maxwell

First Globals reaching out

"Now coming to your college campus: the First Globals. They are the most outward-looking generation in American history, more socially tolerant, and internationally aware. How does higher education need to adapt to a fundamental reorientation of the American character away from consumption and toward a new global citizen?"

The above was how the Chronicle of Higher Education's Leadership Forum advertised pollster John Zogby's June 7 welcome speech in Washington to more than 150 university and college presidents and other high-level administrators.

Zogby, president and chief executive officer of the research and marketing firm Zogby International, told his listeners that they should start now to implement ways to satisfy the demands of a new breed of young students. He spoke at a good time, and his audience — those who are teaching and training our next generation of political leaders and foreign diplomats — was the perfect one.

Now more than ever, the United States sorely needs educated citizens who are willing to reach out in new ways to the rest of the world, a world that is becoming more interconnected and more volatile by the minute.

During our telephone interview Tuesday, Zogby told me that the numbers he cited in Washington were culled from polls conducted over the last five years. Many of the numbers can be found in his book, The Way We'll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream.

The majority of First Globals, 18 years old through 29, do not adhere to any political ideology, Zogby said, and they are willing to think through some of our most complex issues even though they may lack deep knowledge of details.

A major reason for this trend, Zogby said, is that these young people are seekers and world travelers. His polling shows that 56 percent of respondents in this group hold passports and have traveled abroad once or twice during the last five years, with 23 percent expecting to live and work in a foreign country during their careers. Some 56 percent also said they had relatives and friends living abroad.

Zogby argues that members of this generation are more globally aware than any other group in American history. "First Globals want a foreign policy as inclusive and embrasive as they are," he said. "They expect impediments to trade to be removed so they can shop anywhere, and they want developing countries and their peoples protected from predatory multinational corporations and fiscal policies that hold the world's poorest people ransom. For First Globals, the American Century is already over, and the Whole Earth Century has begun."

The Internet, Zogby said, plays another vital role in shaping the perspectives of First Globals, recasting geography for them and creating a world view that is not confined by traditional political borders. For better or worse, they are as likely to see themselves as citizens of "planet Earth" as they are to see themselves as U.S. citizens.

"Travel exposes people to other cultures, alternative ways of doing things, new products and brands, and sometimes competing world views," Zogby said. "For the young especially, travel is the physical completion of the global connection that begins on a computer screen. And no Americans in history have traveled abroad in greater numbers than the Americans of today."

I spent most of Wednesday at the University of Florida and at Santa Fe College with journalism students, and I saw promotions for foreign travel and study abroad everywhere. One brochure on a counter in UF's Weimar Hall, home of the College of Journalism and Communications, states that "participation in a study abroad is more than an academic adventure; it's an experience that can have lasting, positive influence on your future career and life in general." It said study abroad places the student in the role of being "personal ambassador" for the United States, "promoting an understanding of your country's interests to others in the world."

First Globals voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. He is their kind of young leader: brilliant, biracial and BlackBerry obsessive, a world traveler and a unilateralist who during his first few months in office has staked out a new beginning with the Arab world.

Zogby told his audience of college and university presidents and other administrators that they need to get on board. The First Globals are in their classrooms, and their numbers are growing.

First Globals reaching out 06/13/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 13, 2009 9:33pm]
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