German/Austrian reflections: Global Citizenship – Attributes, skills and some confusion

After nearly two weeks as the Austrian-German group of the Danube summer school we reflected on what it is to be a global citizen, the attributes a global citizen should possess, and the skills required to achieve this.

Attributes of Global Citizenship
We agreed that the programme had made us more culturally aware. We thought that cultural awareness was an essential characteristic for a global citizen, but what other attributes did we believe were essential for a global citizen? At the UnConfrence tolerance was one of the words that came up frequently. However, as mentioned by Tom Lorman, tolerance is very passive. Tolerant people are merely accepting differences but do not embrace them. We did not see tolerance is as an attribute of global citizenship. Some of the other phrases that came up in the UnConference such as ‘with a heart’ come across as patronising or prescribe mere gestures. However, we thought that Global Citizenship should be altruistic and not to just to ‘look good’. A commonly used word at the UnConference was connections. Connections with others and building a network are important for Global Citizenship; you cannot be a global citizen without interacting with other people. However, interconnectedness is not always positive: globalization and increased cooperation and competition also create hierarchies. Thus, global citizenship does not come as a blessing for those who are at the bottom of these hierarchies. Discussion of the other key words such as ‘openmindedness’ was more positive. We viewed it as very important for Global Citizenship as a personal bias or predetermined angle constrains what you can learn, it is often necessary to look at issues from multiple perspectives. Interconnectedness seemed to have conflicting connotations.

Skills for Global Citizenship
As our discussion continued we considered the skills required for Global Citizenship. Education, was by far the most commonly mentioned skill at the UnConference. However, the term is very broad to describe a specific skill, it needs to be more specific. Although literacy/basic education is still required to interact with others, we agreed that you can still be a global citizen without formal education – life experience is important too. For many, the opportunity to travel is seen as an opportunity to gain valuable life experiences. We saw travelling as beneficial too, but not sufficient alone for global citizenship. What counts is the attitude that the traveller goes with and interactions with the local people. There are roughly 6,500 languages spoken worldwide today, even though English is now the world’s lingua franca, learning other languages is still beneficial. For example, individuals who are multilingual often feel most relaxed whilst talking in their mother lounge. Both the internet and other forms of new media can be useful to communicate – digital literacy is thus an important skill to be able to communicate internationally and create exchanges between people across the globe. However, global citizenship does not always involve looking at global problems. We found that focussing on the Danube region as a case study (or even a microcosm as you will) we were able to learn about Global Citizenship, extrapolate from it and apply our insights to other cases.

Post Scriptum – Some confusion remains/returns
Attempting to define what is a global citizen was definitely an interesting, but equally confusing discussion. Being citizen of a country (or city) is a very passive experience for many; individuals are not necessarily informed about issues or think about wider applications and are still considered citizens. However, when discussing what a global citizen is, connotations of both awareness and an active interest in current affairs and history arise.  These connotations seem to contradict or at least challenge the original and current meaning of the term “citizenship”. The term global citizenship is very broad and ambiguous, it can be interpreted in many different ways. However, one thing that is for certain is that Global Citizenship is only an idea unless you actually become active and do something.


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