- If we can open our eyes and our minds to the greater world and understand how we fit into it, we can improve not only our own lives, but those of so many around us.
It’s no secret Americans aren’t model global citizens. The globalization of Western culture has meant that we didn’t needed to be. Almost everyone in the world can name the President of the United States, and English is the language of global travel. Nonetheless, Americans are the butt of plenty of jokes, memes, and complaints worldwide. But jokes aside, the lack of a sense of global citizenship in the United States is a growing problem, and COVID-19 and the recent political turmoil have only made the situation worse.
One of my parents was born in India, and I’ve been back a few times. I have family around the world, and I’ve had the good fortune to see a lot of this planet, especially compared to most other high schoolers. Yet, despite all this, between the pandemic and the political turmoil, even I find myself struggling with my own sense of global citizenship. It is becoming increasingly difficult to remember that I am part of a greater world.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all heard “we’re in this together” too many times to count. Here’s the thing: we’re not. At least, it doesn’t feel that way. In fact, the group of people with whom we are “in it” seems to get continuously smaller. Between travel restrictions and constant quarantines, it is becoming increasingly difficult to remember that we are part of a global community. The political situation in the U.S. made it worse: when all of our focus is inward, it is too easy to forget that there is a world outside of national borders.
I came to the realization that this lack of global citizenship was a serious problem while I was in my AP Government class. It was early January, and we were talking about different world leaders’ reactions to the results of our presidential election. I brought up a headline in The New York Times I’d read, about the fact that while many EU leaders were excited to work with President Biden, they were not willing to put their international agendas on hold while he worked on domestic issues. My classmates’ reactions were mixed. Some believed that the EU leaders were completely in the right, not halting their efforts just because of our domestic issues. Others believed it to be inconsiderate to an incoming president. I’m of the first belief: the world shouldn’t have to wait while we fix our own problems. This is a prime example of the lack of global citizenship in the United States; too many Americans feel as if problems are only problems when they are America’s problems.
I interviewed former Governor of Vermont Peter Shumlin, now the director of Putney Student Travel, an organization that sends students all over the world to learn about different issues. He described the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and the political issues our country has been facing as “a perfect storm, a perfect tsunami.” Americans have been losing their sense of global citizenship, and it has been further amplified by a president that advocated for travel bans and “America first” so strongly. And while this hateful and exclusive rhetoric has been popularized for years, the conflict during the presidential election and the insurrection following it has exacerbated it even more.
Upon hearing about these issues, many might say “so what?” What’s the big deal if we don’t feel like members of our global community? Global citizenship is incredibly important. A sense of global citizenship helps us put ideas in perspective, it helps us develop our sense of right and wrong, it helps us nurture respect for ourselves and all the people around us. It helps us look at our problems and create solutions that benefit so many. Our world is constantly gaining the potential to become more interconnected, and if we take advantage of these opportunities, we could have the ability to change the world for the better.
So how can this be done? How do we undo the damage and expand our horizons? How do we change the future for the better? According to Governor Shumlin, the answer lies with young people. He says that “we don’t have to teach this generation to be effective global citizens, they want to be.” Our generation is the future, and we have grown up in a world more interconnected than it’s ever been. “They [young people] are absolutely understanding of inclusion, of equity, of ensuring that we put an end to the issues that we’ve been facing…This is not a debate, for [this] generation, about whether we should. It’s about how we should.”
In order to understand more about that “how,” I talked to Cort Bosc, a Global Citizenship teacher at the Montclair Kimberley Academy. He informed me that developing a sense of global citizenship is a series of steps, gradually increasing in scale. First, people need to have a “better sense of who they are.” Not just trivially, but their passions and interests. Next, people have to ask themselves “who am I in relation to others?” I believe that this step, understanding how we fit into this confusing yet beautiful puzzle of the world, is daunting yet also rewarding. People are puzzle pieces, and once one clicks into the greater puzzle, we can understand so much about that puzzle, about the world that we live in.
So now it’s time to take the next step. Our diminished sense of global citizenship in the U.S. is a serious problem, but there is a solution. It begins with each of us, individually. This is a message to anyone and everyone willing to learn, because we can all be students at any point in our lives. If we can open our eyes and our minds to this greater world and understand how we fit into it, we can improve not only our own lives, but those of so many around us. I, for one, can’t wait to see what we’ll do.
Kedhar W. Bartlett is a Junior at the PCTI Stem Academy in Wayne, NJ. He enjoys playing his guitar, learning about biochemistry, and advocating for science and social change.