by Deborah Jeong
The idea of a globalized world is well exemplified in the production trail of a simple t-shirt. From the cotton fields of Texas to the processing machines in China to being printed and sent back overseas to the United States, a video depicting the production process of a t-shirt served as the introduction to the ‘Global Forum: Shaping of a Global Citizen’ event. The idea of a “global citizen” emerges from a series of frequent and significant interactions between countries and individuals of different cultural and national backgrounds across the world. As part of the International Education Week, the International Studies Student Association (ISSA) co-hosted a Global Forum with I-House and the International Studies Program. The event hosted two guest speakers, Professor Nancy Gilson of the ISP Department at UC San Diego and fourth-year IS-Political Science student Alex Gunn, to share their insight on the keyword of the night: “global citizen”.
Alex Gunn is a current senior in the department of International Studies-Political Science, with a minor in Human Developmental Sciences. She studied abroad last year in Jordan, where she participated in refugee work while learning the Arabic language. Studying abroad for an entire year gave Gunn a unique opportunity to build relationships with the people she met. In comparing the characteristics of a tourist and visitor with the mindset of a global citizen, she explained that while a tourist is content to explore and enjoy their new surroundings, a global citizen will do all of that–and then take the extra step to truly immerse themselves in the local culture. Through enthusiastic story-telling, she wove the image of her cultural experience, describing the local schools she got involved with, UNICEF’s organization No Lost Generation and the close relationship she developed with her host family. Alex encouraged everyone, particularly students, to actively seek out opportunities to get involved in the community. She also advised students to take advantage of the programs offered at UCSD, including opportunities to study abroad and work at becoming an active, conscientious global citizen.
Professor Gilson, a professor in UCSD’s International Studies Program, delivered her presentation with a comfortable composure that engaged the audience. In contrasting the experience of present-day university students with her own, she praised the greater diversity and opportunities that we often have at our disposal. While she was growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood, Gilson rarely had the opportunity to interact with individuals that came from backgrounds different from her own. She went on to tell the story of her friend, Jean, who grew up in South Africa under apartheid and rather forcefully encouraged Gilson to get out of her own bubble and “go learn something.”
As she recounted a few travel stories, one story that stood out was her first experience abroad after earning her Ph.D. in Philosophy, to Taiwan. Notably, the year she went to visit was a very politically significant year for Taiwan: 1979 — the year that the United Nations (U.N.) decided to give China what had previously been Taiwan’s seat in the U.N. After a few weeks of being in Taiwan, an elderly gentleman came up to her and asked, “Why are you here?” He was clearly unhappy with the fact that she was a foreigner from a nation that, as part of the U.N., had just refused to recognize Taiwan as an independent nation. Gilson, rather than feeling insulted, decided that he was right — she had no real reason or purpose to be in Taiwan and decided to learn more about the foreign nation that she had decided to visit. She continued to account how she got to see, first-hand, the life of the people and for the first time experienced what it felt like to be an outsider — a minority.
Many years later, while visiting Istanbul, she was again reminded that despite her high level of education and apparent expertise, there was always more to be learned and new things to experience. She encouraged the audience to go somewhere that makes them uncomfortable, to learn the vernacular and idioms of foreign languages and to thoughtfully listen to the stories of those they meet.
Finally, Gilson defined citizenship as the legal expectation of the rights and privileges connected to status, where a global citizen has the right to privilege and protection under Human Rights Law — “the only law that circles the globe.” Gunn made a poignant point that in order to understand the value of our own privileges and protections, we need to expose ourselves to the circumstances of other people around the world. Both speakers urged the students in the audience to experience foreign cultures first-hand in order to, as Gilson aptly summarized, “learn to be uncomfortable, get over it and learn the tools to do something to have an effect in the world.”