A New Way to Be Bold (Review of The New Global Student)

A New Way to Be Bold (Review of The New Global Student)

Fortune favors the bold -- Virgil
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it -- Goethe

Advice on the virtues of being bold goes back at least as far as the Romans. The New Global Student offers a new way to be bold: go global, “get a truly international education,” and reap many benefits in the process. The particular approach which this book advocates is perhaps best summarized by the encouragement the author, Maya Frost, and her husband gave one of their daughters: to “go abroad in high school, consider alternatives when she returned, and pursue her passion in whatever way she chose” (p.83).

Living abroad for a year as a high school student is The New Global Student’s boldest strategy: engaging in international learning on and beyond campus (pp.21-27) in a way that means “becoming knowledgeable of, connected to, and passionately engaged in a world without borders” (p.28). The rationale is that deep, broad experience living abroad as a student is far more valuable in the emerging global job market than mere travel (pp.33-38). Being challenged is good, and the rewards are great: the learning abroad experience engenders qualities that change students “from bland to bold”: flexible, aware, curious, trustworthy, self-directed (pp.39-42). The study abroad experience is boldest when done to the max: go alone during high school and choose a country with a different native language and an unfamiliar culture (p.221).

This challenging path is, well, challenging: students should expect a process which is painful at first -- culture shock, homesickness, then eventually adaptation, and reverse shock upon returning to the States. But deep immersion in the living abroad experience results in a “brain-boosting learning opportunity” which promotes flexibility, language learning, personal growth and transformation (pp.167-77). The experience can also serve as a far superior ‘rite of passage’ than what is commonly available to American high schoolers, leading to a much richer process of self-discovery and "sense of true independence" (pp.135-38).

Sounds great in theory, but scary in practice? The New Global Student offers an abundance of practical strategies for enabling a successful experience. The book recommends the Rotary Youth Exchange program in particular, but also recommends several other exchange programs as excellent (pp. 141-54). The section on what to expect (pp. 171-77) outlines the stages of culture shock and offers practical advice for dealing with the process. The “From Frantic to Fearless” section of the book offers a no-nonsense description of the main obstacle to moving forward: parental fear and ego (“fego”). Frost offers practical advice on how to ‘leggo that fego’ in its various forms. The antidote: get calm, clear, and creative in kid mentoring (pp.51-60); move beyond helicopter/hot-house parenting by letting 'bold schoolers' explore options and learn on their terms (pp.60-69).

But won’t a high school year abroad throw a monkey wrench into the college admissions process? Frost argues that the college preparation rat race is bad learning and bad strategy; instead of “mindlessly competing against others by doing the same things” they’re doing, distinguish oneself by doing things differently, by focusing on mindfully maximizing a child’s greatest gifts (pp. 29-31). But The New Global Student is not a primer on how to run the college admissions treadmill more cleverly; instead, it offers a series of “Bold School” alternatives to get started on a far bolder path. Some of Frost’s suggestions cover still novel but relatively familiar ground, for instance endorsement of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program (pp.92-97), or finding better advanced learning opportunities than advanced placement (AP) courses, which have become too standardized, content-focused, and no longer live up to their name (pp. 85-92). Other suggestions for moving from “Old School” to “Bold School” are truly cutting edge. Do you think of community college courses as low-quality, “baby food” offerings? Bold high schoolers are using them instead as a "power shake" to jump start their college careers by choosing courses wisely, seeking mentors, and building a "bulletproof" transcript (pp.70-84). Does the term “GED” mean ‘last resort exam for losers’ -- er, ‘low-achieving students’ to you? Frost shows how to use the GED (General Education Examination) as a tool to help motivated students start college early; this strategy won't work for everyone, but it is a potentially brilliant strategy for some (pp.106-116). Tired of test preparation mania? You may be ready to view standardized test preparation as “largely irrelevant and mostly optional” (p.106). After all, over 830 four-year American colleges (including some of the most competitive ones) “do not use the SAT or ACT to admit substantial numbers of bachelor degree applicants”, according to FairTest.org. Even though the SAT/ACT gauntlet is not avoidable for most elite colleges, downplaying the importance of test scores in favor of more relevant learning experiences is still a “Smart Move” (p.102). Does the process of achieving “A” grades seem more like a run-of-the-mill hoop-jumping exercise than a mark of substantive achievement to you? Then perhaps you and your child(ren) are ready to explore becoming a "new 'A' Student: Artful, Advanced, Atypical, Adventurous," "fully involved" in their education (pp.117-135).

Still sounds too bold for you? The New Global Student also offers substantive advice on less extreme but worthwhile alternatives such as a gap year before college or a study abroad experience during college. The first tip is to "lose the cruise mentality;" instead of expensive high-end study abroad packages, "go solo, go long, go deep" (pp.181-87). College students get more out of independently-arranged study abroad than from group packages (pp.187-99); with savvy timing, planning, and legwork, college students can duplicate study abroad packages services and save lots of money in the process (pp. 199-207). The book also offers valuable tips on choosing a country, a college, and finding contacts there in ~30 minutes (pp.220-27), and for getting full credit for study abroad (pp.210-19).

And for the families whose parents want to be part of the experience, The New Global Student offers a chapter on the “The Full Family Deal” (pp.232-70). This includes a “ten commandments” list for living abroad, describes how to focus on family happiness and children’s development without getting caught up in worry, and explains how middle-class families may actually save money living abroad depending on circumstances. The chapter also includes the pros and cons of taking a sabbatical vs. becoming an expatriate. The following chapter is a “get-real guide” which describes many of the ups and downs a family is likely to encounter but which on balance offer "opportunities for rich, radical personal transformation" (pp.273-82).

Although The New Global Student has several other good features -- candid stories, “insider insights” from students who’ve been there, well-chosen quotes -- the book’s approach is not without its shortcomings. One questionable assertion is that a shift in “focus from athletics to academics and arts will do a much better job of preparing...kids for the global future” (p. 44). Why does this have to be an either/or choice? How are learning teamwork, individual responsibility, dealing with competition and challenge not “relevant learning” experiences? The value of athletic participation is dismissed with minimal justification.

Another potential shortcoming is the book’s argument that the benefits of grappling with the challenges of living abroad (“confidence, critical thinking, and compassion”) are more important than the quality of the academic experience. While this may be true in many cases, and “do not expect a yearlong exchange to be focused on academics” (p. 147) may be good advice, why does it have to be either/or? Likewise, the solution to parental “fego” is not simply letting go (p.136), but balancing how to support growth and how to apply reasonable, ever-diminishing limits.

One can also question the premise of the book itself: is having a global experience an absolute necessity for getting ahead in the world of the future? The book makes a strong case that people who learn to live abroad comfortably will have many advantages over those who don’t.

Interestingly, perhaps the best answer is that it doesn’t matter, because much of The New Global Student’s “Bold School” advice actually stands alone pretty well even if the “global” context is removed. The book echoes excellent advice I received many years ago for which I am very grateful: find your child's gratifying interests and talents and feed them (p.294). “Mindfully doing things different to maximize our greatest gifts” (p.31); the world needs skilled, innovative, compassionate, energized people (pp.42-47); focus on whether your adolescent’s challenges are worthy ones (p.147); these and many of the book’s other excellent ideas can make just as much sense with a global path as without one. In other words, “the new global student” is as much “the new intentional student” (p.293) as a global one.

This is important because The New Global Student offers a road less traveled -- it is a path for many more to follow, but not for everyone. As one reviewer put it, The New Global Student is an “unorthodox guide” -- but then, boldness is itself rather unorthodox, isn’t it?

The book ends with an epilogue which asserts that the two beliefs which shape our lives most detrimentally are that happiness and the good life lie in 1) “choosing a traditional or popular path” and 2) “acquiring and maintaining more and better stuff” (p.294). The book’s parting advice is to take a different path: celebrate your freedom to do things differently, forge your own path, and “begin, be bold, and venture to be wise” (Horace - p.298).

Here’s hoping that the book sparks a new trend with hundreds of thousands of students and parents following its advice to find new, rewarding experiences by 'going global'. Even then, though, there will be a need for many more paths to boldness, which the book’s broader message also encompasses as illustrated by this excellent advice for people of all ages (also in the epilogue): “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.” -- Howard Thurman (p.293).

Does the idea of going global make you come alive? Go do it! Does something else make you come alive? Go do it! But whether you’re planning to go global or simply to go boldly, read The New Global Student -- it will be excellent preparation for your journey.