Vakil: Seeing ourselves as global citizens


Caroline Vakil, Columnist

The term American citizen is an oxymoron of sorts.

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a citizen is “a person who legally belongs to a country and has the rights and protection of that country.” Even though many Americans have families that have been in this country for generations, almost all have ancestors that emigrated from another country.

The other issue I find with the term “American citizen” is the assumption that our duties start and end with the United States. We feel content abiding by our country’s rules, learning its politics and laws, learning and speaking English and reading the news based in our country. And to be fair, people should definitely have knowledge of their country’s rules, regulations and news because they live there. But there is also a world beyond the U.S.

A better way to see ourselves is through the lens of a global citizen. As a global citizen, you engage more in the news, politics, culture and language of other countries besides that of your own. But more importantly, that perspective fosters a deeper understanding of how other people live.

The perfect example is taking a language class. When you learn the language of another country, you step out of your bubble and extend yourself into someone else’s. And when you’re able to later have conversations with people down the road in other languages, you create connections that prove both how similar and how unique you all are. However, you will never realize this unless you make the first move in understanding someone else’s language.

Another great example is studying abroad, which helps foster this type of education the best. Studying abroad forces you to learn about the culture and perspectives in the country you’re studying, completely immersing yourself in another world from your own. It’s also an example of how you can apply the concept of being a global citizen in a fun and challenging way.

It’s easy for some to point the finger at Americans and accuse them of being ignorant. It’s not uncommon to hear stereotypes that Americans are uneducated about the world around them or even about their own country’s history and politics.

It’s important, though, not to label this as an “American issue.” Although Americans can do better to inform themselves of foreign policy and the like, being a global citizen is a job that everyone should have because everyone lives and works together in one way or another.

Everyone has to keep up his or her end of the deal using this global perspective. Part of the reason misunderstandings develop is because this ideology is not completely shared among others and often one group of people does not make the effort to meet other groups halfway in their endeavor to learn more about their world. However, this ambition can’t be successful if all groups aren’t willing to meet somewhere in the middle, too.

One success that many colleges have had is the possibility for these endeavors to come to fruition — people study abroad, learn languages, study cultures in classes and get involved with student groups concerning these issues while meeting a variety of people along the way to foster this growth. Northwestern cultivates this type of learning environment and it is crucial that we take advantage of these opportunities while we have them as our experiences afterward can either help or hinder this growth.

Caroline Vakil is a Medill sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.