I am sure I speak on behalf of many people on Danube summer school when I say that the past two weeks have been a great experience. I have learned so much about cultures, languages, customs and lifestyles that I would never have considered before, gaining insights into many aspects of Serbian culture and history, from the music they like to the language they speak. Although this experience has greatly broadened my knowledge of other cultures and places, what has surprised me most is not how different, but in fact how similar we are. When one learns in a classroom setting about other countries and cultures, perhaps in History or Religious Education classes, it can seem an entire world away from what we know and experience in our everyday lives: it seems we could only but imagine being in the shoes of the peoples we are learning about. Yet this summer school has changed that perception for me, especially through Jelena, our language teacher, who is actually from Serbia. It is sometimes easy to place people in different categories and thus alienate them from ourselves, forgetting that at the end of the day we are all people with similar pleasures and experiences.
Recognising this has developed my sense of empathy with people from different countries and cultures who have different educations, different lifestyles and different levels of wealth. This made me realise that we are only here learning and having these great experiences because we are privileged enough to do so. Here we sit, with our university educations and our comfortable lifestyles, learning about what it means to be a global citizen and being lucky enough to learn about a vast range of cultures and languages. Thus, an issue for us to consider may be how those in poverty, or in war stricken countries, struggling to get by every single day, would see us. They may indeed laugh in our faces, at the fact that we talk about what it means to be a global citizen when we have never experienced the hardships they are facing every day. Leading on from this is the question of how we would go about educating people in such positions, for they may not have the luxury of the time and resources to even think about global citizenship, especially if they are unable to prioritize this above things such as finding food and keeping warm.
Even this notion of “how will we teach them” is problematic, as it perpetuates the sense of us being privileged and superior. This is clearly not the case, yet it raises a significant question for the concept of global citizenship. By its very name it is clear that this “global” concept must include everyone, yet how exactly we go about doing that, when many people have very different priorities to ours, is a significant problem. Perhaps the way to make global citizenship more accessible to everyone, as it should be, is to relinquish the idea of teaching others about what it means to be a global citizen and instead focus on the inclusion and involvement of everyone in shaping the concept of global citizenship. But if we are to really include everybody in this process we must surely first address the many entrenched interrelationships between global poverty and global privilege, enabling the voices of the poor and marginalized to be heard loud and clear.