Beyond Borders: What It Means to Be a Global Citizen

Embrace the idea or ignore it -- we are all global citizens. While this citizenship is a birthright, we do have the choice of being contributing global citizens who revel in diversity and seek solutions to the challenges facing our planet or being passive ones who allow others to provide the answers for us.

According to a report recently released by the Institute of International Education, the nation's leading non-profit educational and cultural exchange organization, more international students studied in the United States during the last academic year than ever before, a trend driven by students from China and Saudi Arabia flocking to American Universities. Conversely, more Americans are studying abroad, primarily in the U.K. and Europe, but with a growing number visiting developing nations.

Now, more than ever, this global generation needs to possess and use the skills necessary to be the environmental stewards of the planet and the international peacekeepers. So, exactly what does it take to be a contributing "global citizen?"

If one is open to it, possessing a passport, traveling to other countries and learning about other cultures and norms do create an awareness, but this plays only a small role in global citizenship. A true global citizen possesses a wide view of the world and the part he or she plays in it. Global citizenship is a way of living that is entrepreneurial and tech-savvy, involves taking risks and encourages critical thinking and connecting the dots. Students in an increasingly global society glean information from all their learning experiences, and analyze and synthesize it when dealing with shared societal issues, be they environmental, financial, social, educational, or political.

This global generation is very different from their 20th-century counterparts. Students need critical thinking skills, a level of self-awareness and confidence that will empower them to take on unfamiliar challenges. They need to be able to work on teams of diverse individuals, opinions and experiences. As they will most assuredly be faced with some of the world's greatest challenges, they will need to ensure there are sustainable supplies of food, water, and energy; address the needs of more than seven billion people living on a planet with ever-dwindling natural resources. Whatever the challenge, they will need to innovate, work collaboratively and creatively, across borders and disciplines, and with ethics.

Having been an educator in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, I have seen first hand what makes an international education successful, and I am mindful of the life-changing impact such an education has on its students. Via an international curriculum, students become aware of "how the world works." This is manifested in their open-mindedness to new situations, their desire to strive for a world where social wrongs are eradicated and environmental sustainability is achieved. In a school that is truly international, thinking and acting 'globally' is ubiquitous to all grades and content areas as students develop critical thinking skills, gain empathy and the understanding that they can make a difference. Global citizenship cannot be taught; rather, it must be developed and cultivated. If one is lucky enough, it begins in the formative years at home and school, alike.

Global citizenship sees beyond the world's political borders and ideally starts at an early age. By encouraging our children to share their opinions and explore their own values, while respecting the values and opinions of others, we are creating a foundation for a contributing global citizen that lasts a lifetime. We are also helping to secure our planet for future generations by preparing our current one to take on the challenges that will undoubtedly lie ahead.