When I hear the words “global citizen,” the first thing that comes to my mind is the preamble to the UN Charter. Wow, my Model UN nerd is really coming out tonight!(Sidenote: While I’m here in Spain my Model UN team got to hear Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon speak at the NY conference inside the General Assembly hall. It’s fine, just a few tears were shed. I’m not jealous or anything). While the United Nations isn’t a perfect organization, the ideology preserved in the Charter gives us a set of goals for which to continue to strive and reminds us that we are all global citizens.
“WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom….” -from the Preamble to the UN Charter
Note that it isn’t “we the countries,” “we the races,” or “we the ethnic groups.” It’s “we the peoples.” Each one of us is a member of the global community. But what does that mean exactly?
As part of my senior thesis research, I’ve been studying the meaning of citizenship. Koopsman and Statham (1999) observe three different models of citizenship: national, multicultural, and post-national. The national model is the traditional idea of citizenship in a nation-state, while the multicultural model is more accepting of cultural variation within the country. The post-national model, according to Koopsman and Statham, is the idea of universal personhood and the recognition of global citizenship before any national label. This third model does not reflect the present reality of any one country but rather is enshrined as an ideal in the UN and some international treaties.
Despite the prevalence of our national or ethnic ties, we are global citizens as well. “Globalization” has become a buzz word that people throw around without really knowing what they mean. It’s nothing new that countries are interdependent, but “globalization” refers to the phenomenon of the rapid increase in interdependence and and interrelated nature of state and non-state actors (multinational corporations, non-governmental organizations, etc.), which blossomed after WWII. As collections of people become more interconnected worldwide, so too are the individuals that make up those organizations. That’s not always easy to see, especially in the US with only two countries on our border. But after living abroad for two and a half months, and even with my experiences with the diversity of students at TCU, it’s a little easier to see that we really are members of one global community. It’s a paradox really; the world is so vast and there’s so much to see, yet it feels as though it’s getting smaller with our ability to meet people from so many different walks of life.
Citizenship, membership in a community or society, comes with both rights and responsibilities. The rights of global citizens are an ongoing debate. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) sets forth social and political rights that we as global citizens should have, but the universality of the belief in those rights has yet to be achieved.
What are our responsibilities as global citizens? First and foremost, our responsibility is to go beyond spouting words of “cultural awareness” or “cultural sensitivity.” Those concepts are important, but if we stop there, we’re just talking about global citizenship passively. Good citizenship means active and productive participation in your society.
Global citizenship means recognizing that “[d]espite rapid modernization, culture is slow to change,” which implies that we cannot assume there is a homogeneous “global culture” sweeping the world (Thomas and Inkson 174). That’s something I had to check myself on when I arrived in Spain. I was so surprised to see the amount of interest in Hollywood and American music here, and I was horrified to see not one, but TWO Starbucks very close together among the local cafés. This “globalization culture” is ruining diversity, I thought, everyone’s becoming the same. In reality, as I soon realized, we’re not all turning into one giant Americanized world. Sure, some of the surface things like chain restaurants are going global, but the deeper veins of culture, how people go about la cotidiana, daily life, are quite different. Our values, traditions, family relations, meal preparations…vary quite a lot.
Global citizenship means communicating effectively with language sensitivity. English is not the official language of the entire world (nor is it the official language of the US, just saying). Read, Americans: You cannot expect everyone to speak your language. One of the best things about studying in Sevilla is that often the locals cannot speak English, so you have to push yourself to speak the language of the land. My recent Portugal trip was an even greater language challenge, because I don’t know a whole lot of Portuguese beyond “obrigada” (thank you) and “Bom dia” (good morning). My host mom told me that Spaniards and Portuguese can understand each other if they each speak their own language. I guess that’s only a native Spaniard thing, because I understood very little Portuguese. Besides, some Portuguese we met told us they don’t like when people speak Spanish with them because the Portuguese have to study both languages and Spaniards don’t learn Portuguese. One fun adventure was purchasing bus tickets at the station from Lisbon to Lagos. I asked the vendor (in Portuguese, to be polite) whether he spoke English, and I was taken aback when he said no, mostly because he was working in an industry tourists would use a lot. Somehow, between gestures, Spanish, and a lot of patience, we successfully got the right tickets. But that required both of us to meet the other halfway and get creative with our communication.
Global citizenship means recognizing differences and understanding both the pros and cons to aspects of other cultures AND your own. It does not mean cultural relativism, or accepting that everything is okay because “it’s someone’s culture” (Because that’s how “culture” has been used to justify gross human rights violations). I’ve mentioned before that a TCU religion professor once told me that you should attempt to understand a practice from the perspective of the believer. You don’t have to accept the belief or practice, but you should understand it with an open mind before you make a value judgement. No culture has all the right answers, and we can learn a lot from each other. Spain has made me really appreciate the work ethic in the US, but it has also shown me the value in slowing down and enjoying life with family and friends. Both cultures would perhaps be better off striking some balance in-between.
Once you recognize your status as a global citizen, you bear the responsibility of continuing your quest for cultural knowledge and appreciation, and for sharing those experiences with others. My semester in Spain is just the beginning. I’ve been infected with the urge to travel and learn about new places and peoples, and there is no cure for that bug. Studying abroad has equipped me with the tools to fulfill my role as a global citizen. The next step is to figure out what precisely what my active role in this world will look like, especially as I graduate from TCU next year. It is a daunting task and responsibility, but I am up for the challenge and excited to see what the next years bring.
Koopsman, Ruud, and Paul Statham. 1999. “Challenging the Liberal Nation State: Postnationalism, Multiculturalism, and the Collective Claims Making of Migrants and Ethnic Minorities in Britain and Germany.” American Journal of Sociology 105 (3): 652-696.
Thomas, David C., and Kerr Inkson. 2009. Cultural Intelligence: Living and Working Globally. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.