Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning is a portable mentor for the mindful traveler. The first three chapters offer a vision of soulful and sustainable study abroad, while the remaining five chapters guide the reader through predeparture preparation, on-site orientation, and reentry. What makes the book special is its unapologetic articulation of values-driven global learning. Slimbach encourages readers to approach their journey with a sense of moral purpose, embracing the values of economic, social, cultural, and ecological justice. In doing so, his book represents a radical departure from the values of the marketplace, which construct students as consumers, educational travel as a product, universities as service providers, and host communities as mere spectacles for consumption.
Slimbach envisions educational travel that offers its participants not self-indulgence, but a deep understanding of the forces that shape the world so that participants will be better equipped to offer service, especially to the marginalized. While he extols the intellectual, personal, and social development that travel can offer, he insists that our journey must also benefit host communities. He is not merely tipping his hat to the latest intellectual trend, but fundamentally challenging study-abroad-as-usual. For example, he writes: “I’ve often wondered whether a greater ‘good’ is achieved by transporting a team of fifteen Americans to Ghana for three weeks of service-learning at a local orphanage at a combined cost of $35,000 and 40 tons of CO2, when that same amount of money could support six full-time Ghanaians for an entire year without damaging the environment. […] Perhaps a more promising strategy would be to manipulate those program features, like length of term and size of group, that bias participants toward maximizing benefits and minimizing potentially harmful effects to all stakeholders,” (pp. 90-91). Nor does his advice target only the universities that design and administer such programs; in fact, most of the book focuses on what individuals can do to travel with a “lighter footprint.”
Becoming World Wise is a superb resource for educational travelers. Although it clearly targets undergraduates going abroad for the first time, seasoned travelers will still be challenged by the first three chapters, while international volunteers, church groups, and others traveling outside the framework of U.S. universities will still find the predeparture advice relevant. Although the book squarely targets service learners headed to the Global South, travelers to Europe will still benefit from Slimbach’s inquiry into the structuration of privilege and poverty.
Becoming World Wise lends itself well to inclusion in predeparture packets and courses. More practical than a textbook but more philosophical than a predeparture guide, it will appeal to both professors and study abroad advisers alike. Masterfully written, it gracefully integrates theoretical scholarship, literary and historical anecdotes, friendly travel advice, and student testimonials. The questions for reflection following each chapter are pertinent and thought-provoking, while the suggested activities are useful and challenging. Instructors could easily transform these into journal assignments, course projects, and research paper assignments. Because the content is not country-specific, the book can be used in courses and workshops enrolling students going to any destination. In short, Becoming World Wise is an excellent pedagogical tool.
I do think the book could be strengthened by addressing two important topics that do not receive the attention they deserve. First, greater emphasis should be given to the importance of acquiring proficiency in the language of the host country. This foundational skill makes possible the attainment of many of the other goals for which Slimbach advocates. Second, no attention is given to travelers with mental health issues. Given the large and growing size of this demographic, mental health issues should be included in the discussion about health and safety abroad. Finally, there were some missing citations that made it difficult for this reader to follow up on the author’s intriguing ideas. These issues could be easily addressed in a future revised edition, which international educators would surely await with great anticipation.
Slimbach, Richard. 2010. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishers