Global Citizenship: Who gets the stamp?
Something we talk about all the time in my college is the concept of global citizenship. What it means to be a global citizen differs based on who you’re talking to. Some people emphasize lots of short-term travel and a high degree of adaptability while others prefer longer trips that fully immerse them in a different culture. What about people who don’t have the money, the physical health, or the needed support to leave their home country? I have met elders who haven’t moved much out of their east Tennessee town… ever. So do they count as global citizens?
As a person who has full use of all my limbs, I possess the sweet ability to walk, ride a bike, climb onto a bus, and hold on for my life in a crowded Beijing subway (really though, Beijing subways are terrifying in rush hour. You are a sardine). Just because I have the privilege of two functional legs shouldn’t make me more of a global citizen. Yet for many travelers, the ability to move quickly and independently is a primary point of identity and pride.
I’ve been thinking about my privilege as a person who moves easily. Part of the reason it’s on my mind is that in Chicago, people without homes who have nowhere to move to are stuck asking grumpy Chicago folks for support. Why are they less global citizens than I? Sure, I’ve been to a long list of nations. But I haven’t experienced any of the danger and oppression of homelessness. I don’t need to “dress up” like a homeless person for a day to understand that nobody deserves to be without a safe place.
Strangely enough, I sometimes see the world as a giant map of opportunities to make new home-places for myself. Eastern Turkey? Sure! Northern Thailand? Sign me up! Rural Costa Rica? See you in a month! This attitude is pretty disturbing and frankly, it says a lot about my privilege as a so-called global citizen. The world doesn’t just exist for me to fly around learning life lessons from. Sometimes that’s seductively easy to forget.
As I get ready to make my next home in Costa Rica, I want to find a better definition for global citizenship. Once my professor asked me, “Does someone have to leave their home country to be a global citizen?” With that question, my assumptions about how worlds intersect and interact got blown to pieces.
I like to think that global citizenship has more to do with how you see others than the number of stamps in your passportGlobal Citizenship. As a very wise nun told me last week, our actions and words are our habits (you know, habits, like the big billowy black head covers nuns used to wear). I guess I am a global citizen, but I have to keep earning that identity. I earn it not by backpacking through Southeast Asia or working for free in Africa, but by trying my best to understand and have compassion for the worlds other people live in.
Just to clarify, I’m not saying that volunteering or backpacking are worthless activities! I have done both and have been taught great lessons through those experiences. I just want to think about how I can be a global citizen in my own hometown. Can we extend global citizenship to the elders in east Tennessee? Many of them are wiser than I can hope to be. In some ways they are much more global citizens than I am. They know the old ways of community, how to heal each other and live on living land. I can speak three languages other than English enough to get myself around. Does that alone make me more capable of understanding another person’s world?
I want our concept of global citizenship to include wanderlusty womyn, social justice organizers who travel to Istanbul for Global Powershift in the midst of the Taksim Square protests, and old Tennessee ladies who can make lace. I want us travelers to remember that the world isn’t just there to teach us things. This earth exists as an entity, living and breathing for purposes other than my specific life. And yet my specific life is pretty much all I can really experience. Global citizenship can’t just be stamps on your passport. Our citizenship in the world comes with a daily practice of imagining ourselves looking through another person’s window.
Well, fellow travelers, the next time you hear from me I will be in beautiful Heredia, Costa Rica. Stay tuned for the next ramblings of this rambler.