At age eighteen and a freshman at Lehigh University, I have already been fortunate enough to take the trip of a lifetime. This winter I was able to stay in India for twelve days. My group and I traveled the entire country, from New Delhi in the north, to Hyderabad in the south. The trip was supposed to allow us to see life outside the United States as well as take in the sights of the country. The trip itself was amazing and would take weeks to explain everything I saw, heard, learned, and experienced. But upon arrival back to Lehigh my professors asked me two questions: After taking this trip, how do you see yourself as a global citizen? and How would you define global citizenship? It was funny that these were the first questions I was being asked to answer upon my return from India. It was funny because these two questions were essentially what I had been trying to answer all my first semester. I took a class in preparation for the trip, learning about culture and globalization, and we were told what to think and read books and essays by experts and experienced travelers. Now I read the texts, listened to the class discussions, and evaluated myself as a global citizen even though I had yet to become a global traveler. And after taking all of this into account I came up with my definition of a global citizen illustrated in an essay based on cosmopolitanism. Below is the excerpt of my definition from my final essay on cosmopolitanism:
Cosmopolitans are people who can embrace and immerse themselves into global cultures, as well as have the ability to free themselves from “the Other.”
After returning from India and rereading this essay I look at my thoughts as naïve and idealistic. If I stick with this definition of cosmopolitans, there wouldn’t be any. No one has the ability to free themselves from “the Other.” Everybody will always look down upon somebody. It could be as blatant as white versus black or rich versus poor, but it could also be a subtle expression of superiority, such as informed versus ignorant or traveled versus untraveled. I’ve also realized after our experience in India that there is no way one can completely embrace and immerse themselves into the culture of “the Other.” The fact is that we are all different. Walking into India I was prepared to embrace and immerse myself into their culture. But my appearance, set values, and culture prevented me from completely doing this. I stood out in a crowd of Indians because of my white skin and couldn’t help but to dub some of their ways of life inferior (food, hygiene, etc). To totally immerse yourself into someone else’s culture you would need to already look like “the Other” and have a clear mind without any assumptions, doubts, or standards of the “good life.” Although modern society hate to admit it, this is impossible. Therefore I would like to rework my definition so that it isn’t unattainable.
Now that I have seen and lived with “the Other”, I realize global citizens are people working towards my ideal of a cosmopolitan. They are people trying to free themselves from “the Other”, they can recognize their prejudices and work to fix them. Global citizens embrace the culture as much as they can and immerse themselves into it as much as their appearance allows them to. So, in this case I think I am a global citizen for the time being. I went to India completely unsure of what to expect. When I got there I adapted, I learned about the culture, talked to the people, stepped out of my comfort zone and pushed myself. I didn’t act above anybody. I acknowledged and tried to relate with all of the people no matter how poor or dirty they might have been. I walked the streets with confidence but also with a sense of respect for the country and its people. I started conversations with Indians in the clubs, the bus drivers, the bellhops, people on the streets, and took any advice that they gave me. For example, a young man I met on the streets informed me that if I address someone with the greeting “Namaste” the respectful Indian greeting, I myself will gain respect. What I believe he was trying to say was that by showing appreciation for the culture you will not be considered the classic “American idiot.” By making an attempt to relate with “the Other”, you show genuine appreciation for their culture which in turn gains respect. The small attempts to learn and appreciate someone else’s culture make one a cosmopolitan. All cosmopolitans do not have to be extraordinary people, by just relinquishing some of your homeland ties, taking yourself out of your comfort zone, and not just dealing with “the Other” but moving towards becoming “the Other” anyone can be a cosmopolitan.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.