Global Citizenship: What Are We Talking about and Why Does It Matter?

By Green, Madeleine F. | International Educator, May/June 2012 | Go to article overview

Global Citizenship: What Are We Talking about and Why Does It Matter?


Green, Madeleine F., International Educator


DURING THE PAST DECADE higher education's interest in internationalization has intensified, and the concept of civic education or engagement has broadened from a national focus to a more global one, thus expanding the concept that civic responsibility extends beyond national borders.

The concept of global citizenship is not a new one; it can be traced back to ancient Greece.' But the concept and the term seem to have new currency and are now widely used in higher education. Many institutions cite global citizenship in their mission statements and/or as an outcome of liberal education and internationalization efforts. Many have "centers for global citizenship" or programs with this label.

Additionally, national and international organizations and networks have devoted themselves to helping institutions promote global citizenship, although they do not necessarily use that term. For example, the Association of American Colleges and Universities sponsors a series of programs concerned with civic learning, a broad concept that includes several goals for undergraduate education: strengthening U.S. democracy, preparing globally responsible citizenry, developing personal and social responsibility, and promoting global learning and diversity. The Salzburg Seminar's International Study Program provides week-long workshops for faculty to consider the concepts of global citizenship and their integration into undergraduate education. It also provides college students with programs on global issues. The Talloires Network is an international alliance formed in 2005 that includes 202 institutions in 58 countries "devoted to strengthening the civic roles and social responsibilities of higher education." The Talloires declaration refers specifically to "preparing students to contribute positively to local, national, and global communities." Founded in 1985, the oldest of these networks, Campus Compact, retains its predominant, but not exclusive, focus on the United States.

Defining Global Citizenship

The many ways colleges and universities talk about global citizenship reveals how broad a concept it is and how different the emphasis can be depending on who uses the term. This essay can only outline a few important elements of global citizenship, but a brief overview of the many meanings should help institutions formulate or clarify their own definition of it, identify those elements that are central to their educational vision, and add other dimensions. The following are among the most salient features of global citizenship (this section draws from a variety of sources but primarily relies on Hans Schattle's book, The Practice of Global Citizenship).

Global citizenship as a choice and a way of thinking. National citizenship is an accident of birth; global citizenship is different. It is a voluntary association with a concept that signifies "ways of thinking and living within multiple cross-cutting communities - cities, regions, states, nations, and international collectives..."2 People come to consider themselves as global citizens through different formative life experiences and have different interpretations of what it means to them. The practice of global citizenship is, for many, exercised primarily at home, through engagement in global issues or with different cultures in a local setting. For others, global citizenship means firsthand experience with different countries, peoples, and cultures. For most, there exists a connection between the global and the local. Whatever an individual's particular "take" on global citizenship may be, that person makes a choice in whether or how to practice it.

Global citizenship as self-awareness and awareness of others. As one international educator put it, it is difficult to teach intercultural understanding to students who are unaware they, too, live in a culture that colors their perceptions. Thus, awareness of the world around each student begins with self-awareness. …

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