This post was originally published by Unearth the World, an organization that matches travelers with responsible and meaningful volunteer opportunities abroad. If you are interested in intentional and ethical volunteer travel, I encourage you to check out their amazing projects!
As the world becomes increasingly connected, the idea of “global citizenship” has taken on new meanings. Being a global citizen goes beyond simply traveling or being aware of world events. It’s a sense of shared identity. And in a time that seems consumed with fear of “the other,” I believe that now more than ever we need to understand the transformative power of global citizenship and what it can mean for our world. How can we strive to be true global citizens who also happen to carry American passports?
- Be mindful of your position and the position of others. Before we can become true global citizens, we must first recognize where we come from in relation to people around the world. As I’ve written in a previous post about impact travel, people carrying U.S. passports and spending U.S. currency have opportunities that many others do not. With a powerful passport and a strong dollar, we can enter nearly any country or culture with relative ease. This is a privilege that we should never take for granted. Understanding that others do not necessarily have the same opportunities is vital in being mindful of your positionality. We must grasp where we come from in order to fully educate ourselves on global issues, including those of inequality.
- Understand that people are more than their countries’ governments and policies. As the world seems to grow more divisive every day, it is important to recognize where individuals and governments diverge. Just as you may not agree with particular U.S. policies, people in other countries may not support certain government actions, either. We all are more than the sum of our political opinions—or the politics and actions of our governments. Making snap judgments about a place or its citizens before taking the time to actually meet people and understand their ways of life will never result in more cultural connection.
- Be an ambassador for the values you support. Whenever we leave our home country, we are representing more than just ourselves. We are Americans, and there is no denying that this identity can carry both positive and negative connotations. Consider what you appreciate about the United States and try to be a mindful representative of those values. Personally, I love the diversity, respect, and spirit that I feel most of our country exudes. I try to embody these values while traveling by being politely curious. Ask questions, listen, and try to understand. Be the best our country has to offer while engaging mindfully with others.
- Recognize our shared humanity. We are all humans trying to coexist on this planet. Through my travels both in the U.S. and abroad, I know that that we are more alike than different. Being a global citizen means understanding that our community extends beyond our borders. Our neighbors live next door and they live across state lines and they live on the other side of the ocean. People everywhere, no matter their beliefs or skin color or ways of life, deserve the same rights. Being a global citizen means believing in the fellowship of all humans above distinctions of race, gender, class, nationality, or religion. We have a duty to our planet and a duty to one another.
- Practice respect and open-mindedness. Above all, being a global citizen is about these two values. The world is a big place. It is also a small place. Differences that may seem insurmountable, like a language barrier or foreign religious practice, melt away when you witness scenes from real life. Children run around and play everywhere. Groups of women get together to chat everywhere. Students work on homework everywhere. People eat and drink and socialize and love their families and try to be better everywhere. Being a global citizen does not mean completely understanding every culture or totally agreeing with the beliefs of others. It means understanding that diversity is not divisive and difference is not daunting. We do not have all the answers, and neither does anyone else, anywhere. But being respectful of others and keeping an open mind will allow us to not only acknowledge our shared humanity; it will also put us on a path toward compassion and connection, which we need more now than ever.