What Makes a Global Citizen?

Originally published on the AFS USA Intercultural Programs’ blog.
Shared here with permission

At first glance, global citizenship seems like an abstract concept. What does it mean to be a global citizen anyway? Global citizenship doesn’t do away with passports or borders, and it isn’t a legal status. Still, according to a BBC World Service poll, many people are increasingly identifying themselves as global citizens rather than national citizens.

So, what does it mean to be a global citizen?

Defined by OXFAM, “A global citizen is someone who is aware of and understands the wider world – and their place in it. They take an active role in their community, and work with others to make our planet more equal, fair, and sustainable.”

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, if you’re taking actions that are good for the greater world, like maintaining social distance, you’re a global citizen.

Global citizens…

  1. Know generally how the world works
  2. Can contextualize their local community within our global And actively collaborate with diverse people (even virtually!) to improve the state of the world
  3. And actively collaborate with diverse people (even virtually!) to improve the state of the world.

A global citizen sees beyond their own backyard. They have enough awareness of global trends to sense, if not trace, how what happens in their own locale affects others a world away. They see the interdependence of globalization, how the world has shrunk as technology has made it easier than ever to communicate, trade, and move around the world in record time. This awareness results from a combination of empathy and knowledge of the interconnectedness of our world. Technology has enabled anybody to be a global citizen without leaving their home. By attending to the crisis, respecting public health expertise, caring for the people in your community, and staying informed, you’re demonstrating a global awareness inherent to global citizenship.

Being a global citizen means understanding that global ideas and solutions must still fit the complexities of local contexts and cultures, and meet each community’s specific needs and capacities. As OXFAM notes in one of their helpful, practical guides to global citizenship, it is not just about distant places and peoples. Instead, global citizenship involves “exploring local-global connections and our views, values, and assumptions.” Sound familiar? Intercultural exchange enables just such exploration and examination of how we think, feel, and act across cultures, countries, and environments. Global citizens prize diversity – they value having multiple standpoints from which to consider an issue, increasing the chances of coming up with creative, effective solutions to humanity’s most pressing problems.

In this vein, a global citizen is someone who strives to learn how to live together, rather than apart. This is still true during a pandemic—social distancing doesn’t mean disconnecting from the world. If anything, by keeping your distance physically and following other precautions from trusted sources like the World Health Organization, you’re showing profound global solidarity. Being a global citizen means making the conscious decision to recognize, learn, and co-exist with people and cultures, and build bridges for international collaboration.

Why is global citizenship important?

It encourages collaboration across typical divides. It’s easy to wear blinders and look out for one’s own, but global citizenship changes the meaning of “one’s own.” A global citizen chooses to remove barriers instead of creating them.

Global citizenship helps people see their morals as relative to their cultures and backgrounds while driving people to reckon with their differences so they can work together to ensure a sustainable future for humanity. It stimulates healthy debate and strengthens creative problem-solving skills. Global citizens appreciate the variety of perspectives that exist in the world.

Global citizens apply knowledge and empathy to real-life problems and situations. They are grounded in action and impact. Global citizenship instills confidence that people can change the world. It teaches learners to “take informed, reflective action and have their voices heard.” (Education for Global Citizenship: A guide for schools, OXFAM).

It fosters the skill of listening. Listening to the needs of a community. Learning by listening, rather than speaking or projecting.

It encourages people to question and challenge inequality both in their communities and on a global scale. Global citizens passionately support social justice and sustainable practices. They are champions of a more secure and fair future for all on our planet.

We need global citizens and solidarity now more than ever.

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