From scuffles over resources to sports prowess at the Olympics, we have long been encouraged to be patriotic towards our own country, often at the expense of others around the world. But the move towards global citizenship is on the rise as people across the globe discover that no matter what divides us, we all seek the same basic necessities of life. Ensuring that others have those can be more important than the prosperity of your country alone. This is where the idea of the global citizen stems from.

Global citizenship does not need to replace the national sentiment you have for your own country, but can co-exist in a sustainable balance. A friendly rivalry with other countries can thrive alongside the struggle for equality for all, and celebrating our diversity is as important as recognizing our shared beliefs and history. So what exactly is a global citizen, how can the values of global citizenship impact the world around us, and (most importantly) how can you become a part of it?

What is a global citizen?

Global citizen
A global citizen can broadly be defined as some who identifies as being part of an emerging world community and seeks to contribute to the values and practices it upholds. They recognize that our world is made up of complex connections and interdependencies, and the choices we make on a local scale can have global ramifications.

A global citizen is someone who understands how the world works and respects and values diversity. It is an individual who is aware of their role in the wider world and fights social injustice at local and global levels, willing to make the world a more sustainable place by their own actions. Global citizens are creative and proactive, able to think critically and make informed decisions about what is just, while at the same time showing respect for those around them and abroad. Global citizens are those who seek to make a difference, whether that be through social activism, international travel or simply connecting with people of different nationalities and beliefs.

Nationalism and being a global citizen

Global citizen
Even within our own countries, people naturally form communities based on shared interests, political ideals or religious beliefs and may feel a duty to others in that community more than to those outside of it. But some communities also span borders, particularly when it comes to those of the same religion who share beliefs, despite living in seemingly disparate countries.

Being a global citizen does not mean you have to abandon the patriotism you feel for your own country or the allegiances you may have to your ethnic or religious group. It does not mean you have to abandon your political ideas or support for athletes at international competitions, as these identities are part of who you are and will continue to shape your life in the future. But it is rather an awareness that in living in a globalized world, we have a responsibility as human beings to look after other global citizens with whom we share the earth.

Why is global citizenship on the rise?

Global citizen
The changing dynamics of nationalism can largely be attributed to the rapid improvements in technology which are taking place and the affordability of international travel. No longer are we confined to a limited media source that can easily dictate how we feel about our own country and those around us, but the internet and social media have opened up the platform to alternative media sources and social activism.

This allows the reality of what is happening in countries around the world and on-the-ground events to be highlighted through video documentation and personal insights of everyday civilians. We now have a choice about where we source our information about other countries and people, particularly those who may otherwise be demonized by mainstream media for political purposes.

Connecting with people around the world online enables us to see that we often share more similarities with those of other races, cultures or religions than previously thought. We all crave the basic necessities of food, clean water, shelter, peace and love, and many are realizing that due to the wealth divide and interest of a few at the top, too many people around the world are going without.

The affordability of air travel is also helping to create global citizens as it becomes accessible to more and more people. Gone are the days when international airline travel was only for the wealthy, with budget airlines springing up across the globe and completely opening up the market. From school age students to retirees, people are traveling more and more, with many opting for culturally immersive experiences or volunteer abroad initiatives which only highlight the struggles being felt by people in other countries.

The scientific community’s concurrence about global warming is another issue fueling global citizenship as we become aware of the environmental implications for all of us. While the people in Kiribati may be doing little to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, rising sea levels are impacting them at an alarming rate and they are paying the price for the fossil fuel addiction of rapidly developing countries elsewhere.

No longer are we only buying products from farmers grown in our own backyards, but goods are being flown to consumers around the world as the global economy expands. Where our food comes from, how the workers are treated and how the practices used impact on the environment of these communities are just some of the concerns of global citizens. Organizations like Fair Trade and the Rainforest Alliance are responding to this demand by educating consumers about products and making sustainable alternatives available that aren’t contributing to environmental destruction or social inequality.

What are the values of global citizens?

Global citizen
The values of global citizens need to be shaped by the community as a whole but may incorporate some (or all) of those identified by international bodies such as the United Nations. Human rights, gender equality, poverty alleviation and sustainable worldwide economic growth are some that should be at the fore of global citizenship, as well as the preservation of cultural diversity and religious tolerance. As global citizens, we should strive to prevent wars and do our utmost to restore peace in areas of conflict around the world.

While international agreements and treaties often address some of these issues formally, as global citizens we have a responsibility to uphold them in our everyday actions. We may be far from having global policies that support these values (and institutions that can enforce such policies with accountability and transparency), but as global citizenship continues to rise, we are moving in the right direction.

What are the impacts of global citizenship?

Global citizenship can have far-reaching benefits, not only for individuals at a local scale but also humanity as a whole. As more and more people travel to discover the world, responsible tourism can help improve the lives of those in poor communities, offering employment, resources for education and health, as well as dignity to ensure social problems don’t escalate. It can help reduce inequality and the wealth divide while contributing to national economies at large.

Global citizenship means that farmers in developing countries are not exploited by being offered minuscule pay for products that will be sold for a high price across the other side of the world. By opting to buy responsibly-sourced products, global citizens can help to ensure not only fair pay but also fair work conditions.

Global citizens can help give a voice to those that don’t have one, particularly in situations where human rights are not being upheld. From raising awareness to lobbying for funds, their actions can bring to light situations of social injustice and help remedy solutions.

By advocating for peace, rather than supporting military conflicts, global citizens can help reduce the catastrophic human toll of war. In addition, it can help alleviate the financial costs of military intervention which often results in reduced funding for education and health.

How can you be a global citizen?

Global citizen
If you think about, we are all global citizens from birth, existing on an earth whose systems are inextricably linked. But whether we contribute to global citizenship is a choice and not one that everyone takes. As the world transforms around us, with technological improvements changing the way we access information and international travel becoming more and more accessible, it is harder to ignore the plight of our fellow human beings around the world.

From a lifetime trotting around the globe to advocacy at home, there are many ways you can be a global citizen. If the opportunity presents itself, then take the plunge and head overseas at every chance. Don’t just travel to affluent western countries, but experience how diverse cultural groups live in developing countries and the challenges of life which exist here.

Head to Africa and you will discover that it’s a far cry from the images of desperate poverty you see on the TV screens, but a complex and fascinating continent where people of all walks of life co-exist. Venture to Asia to experience the ancient cultural wonders and enticing street food or head to Latin America to live alongside tribal communities that have maintained their way of life for centuries. It’s these experiences that will shape you as a global citizen, exposing the incredible beauty of our world, together with the impacts of global actions on communities at a local level.

More and more students are opting to spend a semester or year abroad, either during high school or university. For some, it is driven by curiosity and others the knowledge that to compete in a highly globalized world, such an experience would give them a career edge. Students from Saudi Arabia and China are flocking to America to hone their English language skills, while Australians are heading to Asia as the economic ties strengthen in the region and Brits are plunging across the Channel to experience the diversity of Europe.

Being a global citizen is also understanding the role you play in the world and critically thinking about how your everyday actions can impact on others. From the coffee you choose to buy at the supermarket to the behavior you show to those of other races and religions, these all reflect your approach to global citizenship. It’s also understanding how policies in your own country can affect others around the world – is a policy benefitting your nation at significant expense to another? As a national citizen you can influence the policy decisions of your government, and as a global citizen, you have the obligation to do that in order to uphold the rights of your fellow global citizens.

Global citizenship means working towards the sustainability of our ever-dwindling natural resources as the global population continues to rise. How can we use the technology available to us to reduce our impact on the environment, while ensuring that each and every person has access to the basic necessities of a healthy and rewarding life? It requires collaborative work to ensure that the needs of everyone are met, as well as innovative approaches to tackling a diverse array of issues which exist.

How to create global citizens

Global citizens are open-minded individuals who are curious about the world around them and making it a better place for all. It is not something that can really be taught, but something that can be cultivated in people of all ages and developed over time. Schools can play an important role in planting the global citizen seed at a young age, helping to create individuals who strive for environmental sustainability and the eradication of social wrongs. Encouraging children to explore their own set of values, while at the same time respecting those of others, sets a solid foundation for creating long-term global citizens.

The challenges that will be faced by future generations are overwhelming, and equipping the planet with global citizens is one of the best steps we can take to ensure these challenges are overcome. It may seem like a daunting task (and more than an individual can take on board), but as the values of global citizenship spread around the world, it’s not something you have to tackle alone.