You ARE a global citizen. Whether you travel the world on a regular basis or spend more time than you care to admit sitting on the sofa, you can’t escape your identity. Whilst divided by oceans and mountains, by political borders and ideologies, by spirituality and religion, by language and skin colour, and by every little detail that makes us individuals, there is so much that we share. Regardless of the differences, we are 7.4 billion residents (exact number here!) of one little planet hurtling around an incomprehensible massive universe.
We are different
We are each unique. We were created that way. No two individuals share absolutely everything. We enjoy different foods, we read from different genres, we listen to different music. Essentially, we all dance to our own tune. Yet celebrating our individuality surely does not exclude also celebrating what we have in common and how connected we really are.
We are the same
The images above were taken by different people, at different times, in locations all over the world. And whilst you can certainly play ‘spot-the-difference’ to great effect, you can also play ‘spot-the-similarity’. Across the globe, people are going to work or to school, shopping for groceries, meeting up with friends, indulging in a cheeky cigarette…
We may have different politics, different ideologies, and different priorities. Yet we all have hopes, dreams, fears, and anxieties. We all have emotions and we all feel pain. We all love and we all grieve. As Shakespeare so famously wrote “if you prick us, do we not bleed?” Regardless of our idiosyncrasies, at the essence of who we are is our humanity.
Global citizens without leaving the sofa
I enjoy this meal from the comfort of my own home in England. But where exactly has my dinner come from? Well…
Risotto – the dish itself originates in Northern Italy. Yet the ingredients in my risotto this evening have seen little of the Dolomites.
- Rice – grown in Thailand and, according to the bag, it was packed in Belgium.
- Hazelnut Oil – the hazelnuts have come from Turkey, and the oil was processed in the United Kingdom.
- Leeks – my leeks are British, actually grown locally and purchased from the greengrocer down the road.
- Mushrooms – these are shiitake mushrooms from Japan, packed in the United Kingdom.
- Cashew Nuts – the nuts have come from Nigeria, via Germany.
- Lemon – from Argentina.
- Thyme – this is from my windowsill so definitely local, although the seeds I grew it from originated in France.
- Pumpkin Seeds – the pumpkin was grown in China before the seeds were processed in Russia.
- Black Pepper – from Vietnam.
My plate of risotto has seen more of the world than I have!
My evening meal is just one illustration of how we find ourselves connected to more places than we imagine. If there had been a draught in Nigeria then my risotto would have lacked its tasty cashew nuts. If women in Thailand hadn’t spent hours each day taking care of the paddy fields then there would be no rice on my plate. If political relations between the UK and Russia had broken down then my pumpkin seeds would still be sitting in Vladivostok.
Where has your food come from today? And your clothes? And your cosmetics? And the device you are using to read this?
Be a better Global Citizen when travelling
There are endless ways that you can be a Global Citizen when you move around the world. Whether you are taking a two-week holiday to Europe, backpacking for six months across Asia, or attending a business conference in Japan, there will be a hundred opportunities to engage with the world around you. The key lies in making those engagements beneficial rather than detrimental to the local people and environment. Here’s a few suggestions to get you started:
1. Visit ‘attractions’ that actually help
Try places that support the local people, animals, or environment rather than just the areas highlighted for making money out of tourists. Some great examples are Monkey Jungle in the Dominican Republic (write-up by Valerie Wilson of Trusted Travel Girl), the Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus in Cambodia (part of a great post by Bianca of The Altruistic Traveller), or The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya.
2. Think about where and what you eat.
Is the food local? Is it produced sustainably? Is it fairly traded? Have the local people or their environment suffered from its production? Bianca, of The Altruistic Traveller, has a great series of ‘Ethical Eateries’ that’s definitely worth a read.
3. Where will you stay?
Maybe there’s an option to stay in a local community where your tourist dollars can help the locality rather than a large hotel chain. Or what about making a real difference by volunteering in exchange for your accommodation, like Kelly, writing for ‘Amanda’s Wanderlust’, did when she experienced Mindful Farming in Thailand. Another great idea is to hunt out places that advertise their eco credentials. There are many Ecolodges and EcoRetreats around the world.
4. Spend your money wisely.
You can support local communities by shopping at the markets and by booking your tours and excursions on the spot rather than through an agent. Also be aware of any damage that your money could do. For example, paying for a photograph with a chimpanzee or a tiger cub often fuels animal trafficking and cruelty.
5. Be aware of where you are.
Do your research and learn about the ‘rules’ of the culture you are visiting. There have been all too many reports recently of tourists offending local communities (and indeed whole countries or whole religions) by behaving in a way that is seen as unacceptable when visiting sacred sites. Think about where you are and what that place means to others. If you know you ought to cover your head, then cover your head. If you should remove your shoes, then remove your shoes. It is important not to ride roughshod over another culture believing that you are ‘different’ and it ‘doesn’t count because you’re a tourist’.
6. Make an effort with the language.
I’m British and we are infamous for our lack of language skills. Yes, English is spoken throughout vast swathes of the modern world. However, learning a few words of the local language will not only ease your journey but will build better relationships with the people you meet. Think about why you expect your own language to be used by everyone. Are you believing your language, or your country, superior to the one you are visiting?
Can you think of more?
Be a better Global Citizen at home
There are so many things you can do without making any drastic changes to your life or jumping on the first plane to some far-off land. Here are a few of my favourite suggestions:
Where does it come from? Who produced it? Who benefits from your buying it? Buying local supports your region as well as reducing pollution from transportation. Foods that, by necessity, must come from overseas can still help. Fair Trade products are becoming more widely available and benefit the producers rather than raking in profit for big business. And food produced in developing or poorer countries can provide great benefits to that country when exported. It might take a bit more research but is, in the end, a relatively simple way to make an individual impact.
2. Support a charity.
There are thousands of charities working around the world and there’s sure to be one that interests you. Maybe you want to help the disadvantaged in your own community. Maybe you are interested in healthcare provision in Mexico. Perhaps it’s food availability for families in Nepal, or education for children living in refugee camps. Whichever charity you choose to support, you are connecting to someone else outside your own everyday social circle and this is bound to increase awareness of your impact on those you have never met (and probably never will). My own charity, Chaffinch, has a helpful list of ways you can help whether your budget is large or non-existent.
3. Download the ‘Forest’ app for your phone or browser.
Grow ‘trees’ by ignoring Facebook and putting your phone down for a while (and get more productive at the same time). The points ‘earned’ from growing virtual trees can then be converted into real trees planted around the world. I’ve just planted my first tree!
4. Play the ‘Free Rice’ game online.
It’s a multiple-choice quiz and you might just learn something new as you play! You can choose from categories such as Chemistry, Geography and Languages. Every question you get right is worth 10 grains of rice, which are donated to the United Nations Food Programme. Two minutes of your time each day could easily provide a hungry person with rice EVERY SINGLE DAY.
Do comment below with your own favourite suggestions for people to try.
We are all Global Citizens
Watching the news each day, and hearing the voices across social media and in our neighbourhoods, it’s all too easy to think the world is becoming more divided. As the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU in the interests of ‘sovereignty’ and everyone from politicians to postmen debate the movements of Syrian refugees, it does seem that many people have a desire to divide and isolate. Yet is this really what we want? Or are people just seeking some sense of control in our ever-expanding world?
Compared to just a decade ago, we are more connected than ever. We rely more on each other for the trappings of everyday life and to provide the services we desire. We are in contact with the global community so much more than at any point in history.
Why are we building walls? Why are we trying to shut out the rest of the world? Each of the 7.4 billion people on this planet has hopes and fears, and the capacity to love and to hate. We are human more than we are British, or Indian, or American, or French. We all call this planet ‘home’ and it is up to every one of us to protect it, and one another.