If you were asked the question, “What is your citizenship?” You are likely to answer with whatever is on your passport or birth certificate. Surely, we all belong to some part of this world. But as history tells us, this is a result of our own social constructs. We’ve put up borders, segregated ourselves, and created our own little realities in different countries.
The diversity of this world is a beautiful thing, but sometimes, it divides us. It’s because when we form groups, we tend to become exclusive. Humans notoriously adapt an “us vs. them” attitude when they identify with a certain group. As a result, we lose sight of our similarities with others because we are confined within our own contexts. It’s not surprising that some people think in this way. Being raised in a certain place naturally ingrains the ideals of that place into your brain.
This is not to assume that everybody is ignorant, or that they aren’t educated about other cultures, but it’s quite different to learn about other cultures in theory than to actually learn and experience them for yourself. We all have this gut reaction to certain things at the back of our minds—whether it’s turning our noses to food that is foreign to us or condemning certain ways of life—because that is just how we are psychologically wired, even if we don’t mean to be judgmental.
So, how can we solve this disconnection with one another? It’s through visiting the rest of the world, of course! But it’s not just literally visiting every single country. More deeply, it’s truly understanding the ways in which people of other cultures differ from us in order to appreciate the diversity of the world as well as to realize that ultimately, we are all the same.
It is a domino effect, really. Once you visit another country with a vastly different culture, your mind opens up to all the other possibilities of how the other cultures might be like. Like I said before, culture is best experienced in person. There are subtle nuances and “vibes” that you can only sense when you’re experiencing them yourself. And it’s those little things that add up that make up a country’s culture, like their sense of humour, the slang words in their language that they use, the way that they eat, and the list goes on and on. It’s definitely more personal than reading about a place in some article that says maybe, “In [insert country], they value family a lot.” You may think to yourself, okay, yes I get that. But there are so many things that you miss. If you were to visit that country, you might find that the value of family is manifested in the way that they eat around six meals a day together, or in the way that always go to a special festival once a month, or that they don’t go to bed until everybody is in the house. You can imagine an infinite amount of small moments like that, but you will never know unless you go and see for yourself.
You would gain an appreciation for the way that they do things, ridding yourself of that gut reaction to reject other ways of life. It’s a humbling experience to see the many ways in which people live. You might want to adopt those ideals afterwards. Being a global citizen is being open-minded to those new ideas, as well as recognizing that you can always learn something from everyone. It is taking those admirable values from each culture and incorporating that into your own person.
Aside from being open-minded, you also gain perspective. “Perspective” is a word that is thrown around all the time, but what does it really mean other than seeing things in a different way? Well, I’ve come up with a little analogy to better grasp this concept. Gaining perspective is like being a tourist in your own country. When you stay in one place for so long, you get sucked into a routine and everything else becomes background noise. That reverse culture shock allows you to see your current context with different eyes. You might notice that the people are a little louder, or that an area is not well maintained… Things that were always there, but you never noticed. Global citizens are those see and identify issues more sharply.
I’ve just stated values like open-mindedness and perspective and how that helps for personal growth, but how is being a global citizen relevant for everyone else? Well, because of the fact that global citizens become open-minded and have perspective, they, more than anybody else are in the position to change things in this world. They’re receptive and willing to learn, and they sense the problems going on in the world more deeply because they have been connected to it on a personal level.
Current issues like the refugee crisis, gender and racial discrimination, rape culture, and all the other pressing issues of today are persisting worldwide. These issues are not isolated in one place, or a couple of places, but almost everywhere. They are global issues that can best be addressed by global citizens. The youth especially have a big part to play because they are the next generation of leaders. They have a say as to how the world should be shaped.
So imagine what one young global citizen could do with all the power that they wield, with their open mindedness, cultural understanding, perspective, and fearlessness.
Now imagine what the world would be like full of global citizens. Wouldn’t that be a world you want to live in?
This post is also available in: French