Global citizenship is a hot topic among a lot of universities in the United States. Students are pushed to study abroad and become “global citizens”. What does this even mean? There are many attempts to define this phrase, but all of them fall short without a lengthy explanation. To me, it has a lot more to it than merely traveling.
There are many people who brag about how many countries they have been to. I’m not going to lie, I love adding a new country to my list. In order to be forming oneself as a “global citizen”, though, being culturally aware is more important than just seeing the sites. Spending less than a week in a country or region will not let one see the culture, the politics, history, sports rivalries, and common foods. One will get a quick overview of “this is our favorite food”, but often the favorite food and the daily foods differ by insane amounts.
If you aren’t paying attention to how people are dressed, you’re doing it wrong. If you only see the area through a camera (or tablet) lens, you’re doing it wrong. If you aren’t paying attention to hand gestures, facial expressions, and body language, you’re doing it wrong.
In other words, to be a “global citizen” one has to accept responsibility for educating oneself on the world, instead of just seeing the world.
When it comes to study abroad, many people think that spending four months in a different country will give an all-access pass to not only this culture, but every culture outside of the United States. Can anyone tell me what the differences are between Asia and South America? Between Europe and the Middle East? I have to take a bargain that nobody will have any trouble coming up with a full list of cultural differences. So, how does studying abroad make someone a “global citizen”? Well, it just opens the door.
Studying abroad teaches you flexibility. It (in most countries) shows one how to be a minority; how to struggle with a non-native language. Basically, one learns that the whole world is not the same as one’s own neighborhood. That is the ticket to a gate. What is beyond that gate is for each individual to decide and discover.
Alas, this can only happen if one does study abroad, “right”. Exactly the same way as traveling right. Here’s a shocker:
Did you know that study abroad isn’t just about drinking and partying in a different country?
I’ve heard way too many stories about this happening. Studying abroad is about experiencing a different culture. Having a lot of time to explore the depth of situations – such as political atmosphere, gender equality, the price and availability of basic commodities like food and water, what sort of toilets they use, everything! Although, if someone is drinking a lot, I’m sure they will become acquainted with the toilets at some point…
In the end, global citizenship requires one to acknowledge their own bias and privilege. As an American citizen, we have certain advantages. We have English as our native language. We have full access to water. Women are allowed to work in public. Most importantly, we have that blue passport.
Here in Jordan, water is scarce. It is one of the countries on the top end of the “Least Renewable Water Supplies” lists. Most homes get a set amount in a tank every week. If you run out before the end of the week, tough luck. I would not say that there is major gender inequality, but the culture is definitely more shy with gender relations than in the United States. There is no problem with women walking the streets alone, working, or speaking with men. Taking a taxi? Make sure you’re in the back seat. Only men can sit in the front. Then that passport.
There are so many Palestinians who have lost their homes and hometowns who now reside in Jordan, and can never return to their homes. Many American students here travel to Israel on the weekends or breaks. Upon return, many are surprised by the sheer jealousy of their Palestinian peers. With that blue passport, we can travel to nearly any place in the world without question, as well as being able to expect to be taken care of by our embassies, removed from bad situations (ex: war breaks out), and overall simply able to be protected by our government even when across borders.
In the end, I’m not trying to preach or sound like I know it all. I’m just trying to highlight a major difference between traveling and actually learning about the place you’re visiting. There is a lot more to a country, culture, and people than what you can see on a superficial walk-through. Traveling is a vacation from real life. Global citizenship requires a heavy dose of reality.
Do you want to be a global citizen or a tourist?