6 Ways to Discover Your Global Citizenship While Studying Abroad

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Study abroad is “me time” to the max – from choosing your study abroad program, to crossing activities and travel destinations off your bucket list. You get to set the course for how your study abroad narrative will pan out.

However, studying abroad allows you to redefine your concept of "me time" as you engage with the global community. Some of the most personally fulfilling experiences are those that develop you into a global citizen.

What is global citizenship?

Global citizenship is recognizing your connection to the world community at large. It reaches beyond boundaries and borders. As a global citizen, you learn by listening and exploring, you connect with other people as your neighbors, and you give back through purposeful action.

How do I become a global citizen?

Being a global citizen looks different for everyone. Your interests and opportunities impact how you listen and explore. The varied people around you affect how you connect with neighbors. And, of course, purposeful action doesn’t take one singular form. When you study abroad, you might discover your global citizenship by…

1. Volunteering

Marie Salem volunteering at Fundacion Conin in Buenos AiresWhether you sign up for a service learning placement through your IES Abroad program or seek out a volunteer opportunity on your own, connecting with a local organization is a great way to get involved in the community while you study abroad.

For Marie Salem (IES Abroad Buenos Aires | University of California, Berkeley), volunteering with a nutrition organization in Argentina was a humble yet powerful experience.

“I wanted to be working directly with the mothers, helping with breastfeeding and cooking education; however, I quickly understood I was here at this organization to help in any way possible,” Marie, a 2017 Global Citizen of the Year Finalist, wrote. “I was here not to gain my own experience—although this also occurred—or impose my ‘knowledge,’ but to simply help wherever I was needed! …This organization needed small volunteer help with the simplest of jobs, and I was able to put my selfish desires and public health interests aside, to just simply help.”

2. Interning

Dayna Mathew at Working Chance internship with IES Internships LondonAn internship abroad, either full-time or part-time, allows you to explore the work culture of a new organization or company and a new country. By engaging with your co-workers and learning about the culture you are working in, you can best offer your unique perspective to complete projects and solve problems.

Dayna Mathew (IES Internships London | Loyola University Chicago) interned with Working Chance, a London-based recruitment consultancy for women ex-offenders. At first, Dayna was surprised that more than half of her co-workers were ex-convicts.

“I became more knowledgeable about my own prejudice and also became a champion for social justice,” Dayna, a 2017 Global Citizen of the Year Finalist, wrote. “I vowed to fully immerse myself in this opportunity and change others’ mindsets about ‘criminals’.”

Throughout her internship, Dayna developed the MORE campaign, a corporate membership program highlighting how the women who go through their program become “MORE: more confident, capable, responsible, and motivated.”

3. Advocating

John Luke Hawkins headshotYou might be an advocate at home or at school, but you can also take your advocacy work abroad (or become an advocate for the first time!). Advocacy work challenges you to study an issue deeply, form connections with others passionate about the same issue, and collaborate for awareness and change.

While studying abroad in Cape Town, John Luke Hawkins (IES Abroad Cape Town | Hope College) became interested in local student activism protesting the rising cost of tuition at the University of Cape Town. 

“Throughout the process, I made myself an ally; I knew this fight wasn’t really my personal fight, as I was an American abroad student that would be leaving South Africa in a short couple of months,” John Luke, a 2016 Global Citizen of the Year Finalist, wrote. “In understanding the importance of being safe and recognizing that as an white American male, it would be an abuse of my privilege to put myself out there too much, I became an ally.

“I stayed educated and up-to-date with what was going on in the protests by going to the public meetings and daily checking Twitter and other news sources to understand what was happening from all sides of the aisles. I continuously had conversations about these movements and activism with people, and depending on the person, it was either an opportunity for me to learn more or teach someone what I had been learning.

“I helped provide food for some of the protesters in order to sustain them during that tiring time. I marched a few times with the protesters to show my support by providing a body, or a number, in the movement. I now proudly say ‘fees must fall,’ not because it gave me a month off of school, but because it is a movement for justice, and I, I stand for justice.”

4. Creating Art

Lucy Sternbach in conversation with a woman in Granada, SpainArt of all forms, including music, writing, dance, and visual art, invites the viewer to consider different perspectives. For many, global citizenship means making something creative that draws people together, encourages reflection, or incites purposeful action.

Lucy Sternbach (IES Abroad Granada | Yale University) discovered her global citizenship as she interviewed and photographed women in Spain and Morocco, encouraging them to share their stories.

“This photo-narrative project, indeed, might have negligible significance. However, both the final product narratives and the less tangible conversations of my work could be part of a slow, yet important paradigm shift for women around the world,” Lucy, a 2017 Global Citizen of the Year Finalist, wrote.

“These women who I spoke to, who are often misunderstood as apolitical or passive, have shown resistance to stereotypical common ideology. Perhaps one of the women I spoke with, with a new validation that she is a political actor, will be inspired to share her story more with young girls and boys in the future generations.”

5. Conducting Research

Will Turett at his internship with the European Environmental Bureau while studying abroad in ViennaFrom completing your own research for a course to contributing to a larger project, there are multiple avenues to conduct research as a global citizen. Sharing your findings while abroad and when you return home opens up doors for international communication and knowledge sharing.

During his semester studying abroad in Vienna, Will Turett (Williams College) interned with the European Environmental Bureau. He contributed to research projects by translating reports and gathering related research.

“A concern across Europe in science, and specifically in environmental research, is that the incongruous and unconnected nature of various undertakings results in research being redundantly replicated or not shared with the necessary audiences,” Will, a 2017 Global Citizen of the Year Finalist, wrote.

“There is a strong push by the EU and European scientific communities to fashion cross-sector, cross-industry platforms and databases to enable greater knowledge sharing and its resultant spillover benefits. My personal gathering of research on the fields of bioeconomy and plastics will hopefully enable us to learn from best practice examples and inform our outreach to and communication with potential stakeholders in this transition.”

6. You Decide!

How will you discover your global citizenship while interning or studying abroad? We can’t wait to find out. Share your story to be considered for our annual Global Citizen of the Year Award.

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