Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Challenge of Global Citizenship

by Ann Spiers and Dr. Alain Youell

Pictured: Geisha, courtesy of the Fuji Film Staff

Pictured bottom: Model Ikumi Kishiya

Living in Japan for however long, you have been totally immersed in a culture as far from your Westernlifestyle as you can get. So, by now the fruits and vegetables in the store are familiar; you don't look twiceat the kanji you can't read; you sidesteip millimetres from a moving car without even thinking about it; andthe murmur of Japanese around you is familiar as a lullabye. Whether you understand it or not, the worldof Japan has shaped you, made you face things, made you grow. You take it for granted, and memories ofyour home country are becoming tinged with nostalgia or romance, increasingly unreal--something longed forthat is out of reach and out of sight.

As a rule, without even being aware of it, you have expanded your sense of who you are and the nature of theworld, to include cultures and people you were only superficially aware of before. You are on your way to becominga global citizen. You have some practical and emotional experience of another culture FROM THE INSIDE, fromparticipating in it. You can never go back to a view of the solitary home country; you have begun to understand thedeeper currents that move and unite the entire globe, from a very personal and practical level, rather than anintellectual one garnered solely from the media.

This is what global citizenship is about--the idea that we are, first and foremost, citizens of this planet, united onthat level with all others, no matter how different their culture; and only secondarily a citizen of the country ofbirth or passport. This is the increasing practical not intellectual understanding that we are all interconnected,that no one country's or races's or religion's ideas can dominate without injuring us all. Most people arevoyeurs or "guests" on the world scene, and do not participate in the rough and tumble of being a part of theglobal scene. Only a few years ago we would never have thought the collapse of the Communist Bloc possible,nor that ethnic wars would again start all over the world scene, but that is what is happening, and all on centerstage.

A true, rather pedantic sense of global citizenship can only be gained by having the kind of intensive cross-culturalexperience you have participated in. This will become very obvious when you return home. People want to hear ofyour adventures at first, but you quickly find that they do not want to hear your preceptions, for they are too un-comfortable with their own lack of knowledge. You have changed; You no longer fit in. "Friends" quickly driftback into more comfortable topics of conversation on a more parochial level. If you persist in trying to share whatyou have learned, they quietly drift away. You cannot participate in "your" culture in the old way; your view is toobroad.

Uncomfortable though this may be, and most returnees find it to be true, it is the harbinger of change on a worldwide level, and you are one of its' pioneers. For there is an increasing body of people who have participated deeplyin several cultures, who no longer consider themselves simply the citizen of a country, who are asking what itreally means to be part of a broader group that transcends the boundaries of politics and takes in a globalperspective. There is now opportunity, as never before, for voices to be heard and acknowledged. One can bepart of a changing world order. Many are reaching for this, but without having really lived in another culture,the understanding is pedantic instead of experiential.

How do you put your experiences into practice, and move out of the sense of isolation that is apt to be yourrexperience upon returning "home?" First, reach out to others who have also been there, even if it takes a lot ofeffort to find them and connect. Find those who are comfortable, interesed and aware of the larger world whichyou have experienced. A global support network is an important step. Then find ways that work for you to liveand express your expanded view. Use your experience, rather than hide or give up. You are pioneers, forging anew experience of truly living as global citizens. The hardships and struggles blaze a trail that eventually thewhole world will follow.

Being a part of the world means that all of one's prejudices and biases, as well as the excitement and wonder,are brought into focus. They are there to be used, to reflect on ourselves as well as the country of residence.An American novelist wrote: "You can't go home again," and that truth is absolute. You are never the samewhen you have gone outside your own tight little world and joined the world at large, and this you have done inthe truest sense after your experience in Japan. Cicero reflected that one's homeland is whereever one doeswell, and since one has to make one's homeland where one is, the success comes when we look honestly at ourparticipation, and stop trying to hide or avoid our responsiblilites, for then everyone loses.

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