To be, or not to be a tourist.

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. 

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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?

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10 thoughts on “To be, or not to be a tourist.

  1. Do you want to be a global citizen or a tourist? Tough question Amanda !

    I do enjoy the “fun” of being a just tourist in a foreign country. But Amanda, I do understand that traveling with just a tourist mentalitylimits global mobility and understanding.

    While I do heartily believe that we should study the culture, traditions, and practices of other peoples, I cannot embrace becoming a “global citizen”. Maybe I am old fashioned, but I cherish my American citizenship and I value my Western Christian culture much too dearly to accept a global culture.

    Now niece, do not get me wrong, I laud you for your positive attitude and your courage to take on the adventures that you embark on. Learn from other people, observe their customs and traditions, treat all mean as equals, and bring harm to no one because of their religioun. But always remember who your are, what you are and how you came to be – you.

    While learning and studying others peoples, religions, and cultures, do not become so enamored with the novelty of difference that you would forsake the comfort and safety of your own culture and religion. God bless you in all that you do, and may the Lord Jesus Christ, His Holy Mother and Saint Joseph protect you in your travels.
    Keep the posts coming, young lady. I really enjoy them.
    Uncle Jim Jaczkowski

  2. Amanda,yes, understood!

    But (and I love those buts) …all “concrete” philosophies start as ideas … theories …..

  3. Well Spoken Amanda…In every word! I think with Global Thinking comes the awareness of Global Suffering and you really do realize how much we have in a materialistic since and how others really can do without the materialism once you live outside the states. Sometimes..Food, Water, Shelter and Family are all people need not the lastest gadget or a cart full of groceries from Costco. For as much as I have (I am not saying I am giving up that dryer)..I really value that compared to living in the states we got away from A LOT OF materialism and I am proud of how little we really shop for “things” and life becomes about experiences, family, food and friends. As for “Living Abroad” I really pity the people who come to Jordan and live the “expat” life..What was the point of even coming if you didn’t plunge into the culture? Just stay where you are..Sure you saw Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba and Jerash…Did you really sit down and talk with people? Try and understand things that you never knew before? Did you ever really push yourself outside your safety limits and get in a Taxi thinking am I really can get where I am going without even knowing the streets? Your words remind me of a lot of things, but I love this qoute from one of my favorite movies Strictly Ballroom and it says “A life lived in fear is a life half lived”……To many more adventures here in Jordan Amanda…I hope the country enriches your views on life!

  4. I suppose my experience is a little different since I am living in Paris, France and am thus surrounded by a similar white, hegemonic, heterosexual majority culture that I find back home in America. However, at the same time I feel as though everything about screams “American” – from my clothes, to my skin, to my facial structure, to the way I stand, to my smile, to my accent. It’s the subtle cultural differences that suddenly become most obvious. Like the fact that I smile at people if they run into me and then apologize – to me, a smile says “hey, it’s no biggie, we can all be friends!” Actually, I just smile a lot in general because I am a happy human being! But Parisians don’t smile, unless they are with friends. So, case in point, the fact that I am willing to show my teeth in a universal (?) gesture of friendliness makes it incredibly apparent that I am not from around here.
    For me, the question becomes assimilating to the French or keeping my American traits? I aim to do both. I dress like the French, I walk and talk (to the best of my ability) like the French, I go to school with them and watch their news. But, I can’t and won’t shake the smile off of my face! I just don’t have a scowl, and I don’t think that has to be a bad thing.
    As far as being a global citizen, I definitely agree with you. We can’t spend our semesters abroad getting drunk and partying nor can we spend them wearing fanny packs and taking pictures in front of monuments. We will have much more enriching experiences if we integrate ourselves into the lives of those around us. Ask questions about things we don’t understand. Try to maintain an open mind to the daily lives and thoughts that circulate around us. But, we do have to remember to take a few pictures – my friends and family keep chastising me because I’m not posting very many pictures. They keep asking me if I’m really living in Paris…

    • Yes, nowhere in the world smiles quite like the United States does! You make very good points. The problem with smiling here is that it invites verbal sexual harassment. I know in many other regions (including Eastern Europe), too friendly of a smile can be mistaken for an invitation, sadly.

      I keep getting chastised about my lack of pictures as well. I’m taking them, just not so many! Who wants pictures of the school cafeteria anyways…? 🙂

  5. Thank you for the insightful post. We have traveled as a tourist and very independently. We have found our own unique style that allows to experience the world and yet on the local terms. Great article, and I look forward to a followup.

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