As populist political parties and large-scale decisions like Brexit threaten the idea of open and accepting societies, the freedom to migrate has become increasingly restricted. The increased securitization of borders around the world suggests that many nations wish to exclude the freedom to migrate from their story. As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Madrid (2017-18), I worked with secondary school students to investigate the challenges associated with migration through the Global Classrooms program. My time as an ETA in Madrid fomented a deep interest in migration that has manifested into an academic and professional focus in migration and human (im)mobility.
The Global Classrooms program, which closely mirrors Model United Nations, helps students to build and refine their English language skills through an important contemporary issue related to the Sustainable Development Goals. The program aims to prepare students for an increasingly globalized world and to improve their linguistic ability to communicate about important topics in English. At a time when the United States looked inward during the term of former President Donald Trump, the Global Classrooms program allowed my students to see outward and apply solutions-based thinking to one of the world’s most polemic topics.
In the program during my grant year, student pairs served delegates from a specific country, and they were tasked with researching and understanding that country’s perspective on migration. Initially, some of my students took the assignment lightly, suggesting solutions like the sale of arms in exchange for other resources. As we began the program in early October, they found the process of creating a bibliography and citing sources tiresome and confusing, an understandable sentiment. The idea of writing a position paper intimidated them and debating in another language induced nervousness beyond that of a typical thirteen-year-old. Needless to say, very few students wanted anything to do with migration or the UN in the first few weeks.
However, students gradually began to use their skills to think beyond the bounds of citations and position papers. Born right in the middle of Generation Z, some brainstormed creative solutions that utilized digital technologies to connect people and societies. Others turned to latent interests in science and art to consider how different disciplines would approach migration. By December, the students excitedly took their seats to participate in a mock Model UN conference at our school, creating blocs with other countries and drafting resolutions with relevant and inspiring goals. In just a few short months, the Global Classrooms program helped build confidence, leadership skills, and communicative fluency for students in 3ESO (equivalent to freshman in high school). A selection of them had the privilege to debate with students from across the Comunidad de Madrid at the subsequent regional conferences, and one had the chance to travel to New York for an international Model UN conference.
In the three years since I completed my grant, governmental administrations around the world and international collaboration have changed radically, and the COVID-19 pandemic has both grounded and uprooted communities around the world. Whilst millions have been living in various degrees of lockdown, the pandemic has forced others to seek livelihoods elsewhere, upholding the idea that migration continues to be an important character in our global story. My own engagement with human mobility continued, leading me to pursue a Masters in Migration Studies at the University of Oxford after my ETA grant year. Since graduating in July of 2019, I have joined the Europe’s Stories team at the University of Oxford and the staff at WICID, an interdisciplinary research center that explores issues of international development through a critical lens. My gratitude extends to the Fulbright Commission of Spain for sparking this career path, to the wonderful fellow grantees I had the privilege to share the year with, and all of my students and co-teachers who muddled through migration and its complexities alongside me.
Maeve Moynihan – Spain 2017