Local Challenges always Involve Global Processes: A Brief Guide to Fostering Global Citizenship During Courses, Travel Programs, or Alternative Breaks

January 9, 2020

Global citizenship sometimes comes off as a heady, unrealistic aspiration. But there are global citizenship efforts underway all around the world, coming from diverse communities and traditions. And updating our civic lenses to actually embrace our human and ecological interdependencies will only help us address our shared challenges close to home and farther afield.

So what is global citizenship, and how does it apply to alternative spring breaks and domestic community engagement? 

Global citizenship is a commitment to fundamental human dignity, couched in a critically reflective understanding of historic and contemporary systems of oppression, along with acknowledgment of positionality within those systems; it connects with values, reflection, and action. A critical global citizenship calls us all to humble, careful, and continuous effort to build a world that better acknowledges every individual’s basic human dignity (Source: Community-based Global Learning: The Theory and Practice of Ethical Engagement at Home and Abroad)

OK, interesting. But how can I break that down during an alternative break? 

There are a few core components to global citizenship thinking. 

    1. A commitment to fundamental human dignity. This is a moral, ethical, and/or spiritual position. Dive into how participants understand and commit to shared human dignity, as failing to see the extraordinary humanity in all persons is at the core of the issues that ail us today. During an alternative break, conversations about what it means to take local actions on global citizenship can be facilitated during evening reflection sessions with How do you Express Global Citizenship? – or adaptations off of that activity, which is intentionally open-access. To stimulate additional discussion and reflection on the nature of this commitment (and even to consider its connection with other sentient beings), read and discuss Princeton Philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah’s Case for Contamination essay in the New York Times, check out my brief piece on how MLK recognized ending racism as a global struggle, or better yet (with MLK Day upcoming, he is, as ever, on my mind) read this NYT Op-Ed on, “Dr. King’s Interconnected World.” The article begins, “Christmas Eve 1967 — the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood in his pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and told the congregation that in order to achieve peace on earth, “we must develop a world perspective,” a vision for the entire planet.” Feel challenged by the notion of a spiritual, moral, ethical conversation? Dive into it with the links above, or assign reading or listening to these and other resources from On Being: The Spiritual Tension of Local Loyalty and Global Responsibility (a Courtney Martin blog), or a podcast conversation with Krista Tippett – Rami Nashashibi and Lucas Johnson: Community Organizing as a Spiritual Practice. 
    2. Couched in reflective understanding of historic and contemporary systems of oppression. Ask yourself, participants, and community partners, what are the historic and contemporary structures (economic, political, cultural, discursive) that marginalize particular groups and communities? Lenses and datasets rooted in human rights, public health, and global health indicators present the question: Assuming people are similarly filled with potential, why do some zip codes, ethnic and racial groups, genders, etc., experience statistically significant outcomes differentials? This kind of global lens led me to document the nearly 20-year Life Expectancy Gap across the Philadelphia Region. If this feels uncomfortable, difficult, and challenging for some members of your group, you’re probably on the right track. As University of British Columbia Professor Vanessa Andreotti reminds us, (scroll to the chart at the bottom if you don’t have time for the whole article) critical global citizenship roots itself in interdependent accountability and understanding of complicity. It is getting easier to find accessible data on rights and health indicators, as the UN Sustainable Development Goals provide common targets and related reports like the 2019 US Cities Sustainable Development Report
      1. But how does data reveal historic systems of oppression? It doesn’t. Data reveals different outcomes but doesn’t tell us why. That requires diving into local and global histories. They are always inter-related. Above I linked to a piece on the 20-year Life Expectancy Gap across the Philadelphia Region that led to additional research and writing on Race and Exclusion in Philadelphia: Snapshots from the Past 100 Years. Notably, some of that content was Google-able, but a great deal of it came by way of connecting with community members and familiarity with community organizations and news sources. Ask the individuals and organizations you work with about the histories they think are well-done, or the stories they know aren’t written down but are held within their communities. If possible, learn histories from local leaders and community narrators. Figure out how to recognize and remunerate them appropriately (a core element of Fair Trade Learning). Remember (and remind participants) to hear multiple and diverse community stories, and avoid the trap of over-investing in the story shared by the first charismatic narrator. 
    3. Consideration of positionality within local-global systems, connected with values, reflection, and action, should calls us all to discern our own routes toward (always improving, never complete or perfect) humble, careful, and continuous effort to build a world that better acknowledges every individual’s basic human dignity. The How do you Express Global Citizenship? activity that I started this post with can be used as an early inquiry icebreaker as well as a tool for ongoing dialogue on the question: How do we best make a difference in respect to the issues we face, see, or learn more about through this course or alternative break? Participants can also draw on short articles such as The Great Diversities in Making a Difference, to stoke dialogue about where they perceive their own strengths and dispositions in respect to charity, project, policy change, be the change, or visionary futurisms.  

These resources are a start. Remember that any good co-curricular or curricular local-global learning program includes deliberate learning goals that can draw from a great breadth of learning aspirations. In the months to come, we will continue updating our resources on cultural humility, critical approaches to service and development, and more. Please send a note to buildingbetterw@gmail.com if you have resources, insights, or tips you’d be excited to share with others. 

Eric Hartman is Executive Director of the Haverford College Center for Peace and Global Citizenship and Editor of Globalsl, a network that advances ethical, critical, and aspirationally de-colonial community-based learning and research for more just, inclusive, and sustainable communities. Globalsl will host a Community-based Global Learning 101 on October 1, 2020, in Philadelphia, immediately preceding the October 2 – 3  Conference of the Pennsylvania Council for International Education. Save the Dates.

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