It’s hard to think about GFA’s World Perspectives Program without also thinking of the program head, Dr. Victor Llanque Zonta, Director of Global Education. While he didn’t create the program, he has taken what has always been a solid program and guided its evolution into a ground-breaking approach to teaching global topics.
Originally from Riberalta, a small Bolivian town along an Amazon tributary, Dr. Llanque left home at age 16 to attend an international school in Norway. With some 200 students representing more than 100 countries, the school provided him with an eye-opening experience.
“It made me realize very quickly how complicated the world was and how important it was to recognize that people have very different experiences, but we also face shared challenges,” he explained.
Finding his way to GFA was no accident. After graduation from Macalester College, Dr. Llanque looked at many schools before deciding to join the faculty here in 2008 (and while here earned a master's and Ph.D from Columbia University Teachers College). Most appealing, he said, was Head of School Janet Hartwell’s vision about the significance of instilling a world perspective into education. Under that kind of leadership, he could envision many opportunities to provide a meaningful experience for students.
He also saw an opportunity to share his own experiences with the students at GFA. “One of the things I like about being in the U.S. and being at GFA is that we can be part of a community that is not homogeneous — it thrives in the perspectives that people bring in from other parts of the world. I feel welcome here, even though I’m not from here.”
“I think my proudest accomplishment in working this program has been to shift the conversation around global education from a narrative of fixing world problems to understanding world problems from multiple perspectives, supported by facts and information,” Dr. Llanque said.
In the early days of WPP, many classes centered around solving problems like world hunger, water shortages, and poverty. While their intentions were good, the classes were missing a critical connection: students were lacking a deeper understanding of the history behind these problems.
“We have a responsibility to make sense of the world before we act,” he said. So Dr. Llanque and the Global Studies faculty aimed for a more academic approach by studying issues from a variety of angles, and through an interdisciplinary lens.
“We are grappling with all of these global challenges that we now have — as humanity has — but doing so with a very clear awareness that where you stand in the world shapes how you interact with the rest of the world,” he said.
Differences can create conflict, he acknowledged, and the students can see how that manifests today. He continued: “We can also take a different conclusion and say that we can coexist with those differences. Not everybody needs to believe the same thing in order to lead prosperous and healthy lives. And we never end up with one answer. I create space for the kids to talk about it.”
Senior Gracyn Sollmann is working toward graduating with a concentration in Global Studies, and has been a part of many WPP courses, along with traveling to Belize to study its climate change, ecology, culture, and sustainability. She said her experiences have been greatly enhanced because of Dr. Llanque’s teaching style and approach.
“Dr. Llanque works tirelessly to promote and run the World Perspectives Program,” she said. “He uses his own experience to teach lessons in the classroom. … He is tolerant and a fantastic conversationalist which makes him a great person to talk to when you want to consider alternate viewpoints on a particular topic.”
In true Dr. Llanque fashion, he demurely credits his supporting faculty and the Global Studies Center facilities for strengthening the program and allowing real conversations to take place. He also credits the students themselves, in particular their participation in the World Perspectives Symposium.
“I think it’s unique that everyone takes off time from class to learn from each other. It’s students teaching students, and a great way to see them shine and take ownership” he said.
Rounding out his contribution to the global conversation, Dr. Llanque is also teaching a class through Global Online Academy, which allows students from all over the world (including GFA) to take a variety of courses that aren’t offered at their schools. Dr. Llanque and Upper School math teacher Don Martocchio created an Introduction to Investments course that Dr. Llanque teaches. His students are from the U.S., Mexico, Jakarta, and Beijing, which Dr. Llanque said, “really enriches the conversation around what we are talking about.”
Wherever his classes take place, for Dr. Llanque, it all comes down to communication. “What is global education?” he asked. “My answer has always been, ‘Let’s talk about it.’”