The Art of Cultural Diplomacy Central to Global Citizenship

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gerrymapToday’s post touches on what is certainly a hot topic – Global Citizenship. This term is slapped onto countless college admissions and education abroad brochures, with not much thought about what the term really means.  Melibee’s Gerry Botchoukova-Farkova provides us with a strong opinion piece about the intersection of cultural diplomacy and global citizenship.  Be sure to add your comments below!

Lately, I find myself spending more and more time pondering this whole concept of global citizenship. What is it? What does it mean to be a global citizen? How do you become one? And are all global citizens created equal?  The United Nations Academic Impact Hub on Global Citizenship defines it as “an umbrella term for the social, political, environmental, or economic actions of globally-minded individuals and communities on a worldwide scale”. But even they admit that the term does not have a standard definition. Is, then, global citizenship, and in turn becoming a global citizen, something that each of us interprets and defines individually? And once these personally accepted definitions are crafted, how do we identify ourselves with a term that does not have an explicit and mutually agreed upon meaning? Furthermore, what is the point in doing so? In our field of international education, global citizenship is highly valued and persistently sought after, but do we truly understand what it is and how to attain it?! Or is it turning out to be the holy grail of international education, an elusive concept in which we claim, believe and want, but can’t seem to clearly define?

Well, let’s start with what we know. We live in a highly globalized world, where physical distance is becoming more and more obsolete due to huge technological advances in communications.  Thus, on a daily basis, we are presented with myriad opportunities to come together and interact with each other on a global scale (just think of your facebook or twitter accounts). We traverse the globe, upside down all the way around, as global workers, international students and travelers and in time (for some this might even be after their very first experience abroad!!!) we start to claim global citizenship. Logical? I think not and here is why.

My Take on Global Citizenship

To be a global citizen it is absolutely imperative to master the fine art of cultural diplomacy, no ifs or buts about it. What exactly is cultural diplomacy? According to political scientist Milton Cummings, it is “the exchange of ideas, information, values…with the intention of fostering mutual understanding” Putting the spotlight on the intention with which we travel and create study abroad programs is the very first step on the long road to becoming or creating global citizens. Before we set foot on any foreign soil we have to ask ourselves two questions and be clear on their answers: “Why do I study abroad? Why do I travel?” Furthermore, if we do those two things with the “intent to foster mutual understanding” it seems logical to think that we would need to go to a place where such understanding does not already exist. Hence, a number of somewhat brief encounters with a handful (if even that) of most-likely like-minded, pro-western cultures can not possibly provide us with the necessary opportunity to fully develop our ability to freely and easily employ cultural diplomacy.

To further clarify my point, take for example this article, Study Abroad Destinations: 10 Best Countries, which outlines the 10 most popular study abroad destinations for the 300,000 plus American students that travel abroad each year. Six of of the ten countries on the list are not just European or members of the EU (gentle reminder that not all European states are EU members) but rather they are Western European EU member states. Japan is the only Asian representative proudly securing 5th place behind Italy, Spain, France and Germany. Brazil and Argentina, place 8th and 10th and are the only two South American countries in the bunch.

My question is: What happened to Central America? Australia? Africa? Eastern Europe? South East Asia? The rest of Asia?- and, yes, that does include the Middle East! Where did they go?! Why are they not on this list? I would argue that these are the places where American students have the greatest opportunities to master their cultural diplomacy skills because the need for fostering mutual understanding is the largest there. Fascinating isn’t it, how we, as students and educators, gravitate towards the path of least resistance and choose to focus on the most similar to ourselves. Of course I am not proposing that studying abroad in any of the top four countries on the list (I myself studied in Spain) does not have any value. Not at all! Unfortunately though, it does not get us any closer to the cultural diplomacy skills necessary for true global citizenship. On the contrary, it pushes us further away from it as we choose to spend our finite resources (time and money) heavily favoring the exchange of ideas, information and values with already like-minded “friends”! I fail to see how one can truly step outside of her comfort zone to question her own cultural context and assumptions in a place that does not challenge her to do so in a very upfront way.

True global citizens are masters of cultural diplomacy. They are culturalists, diplomats, cultural ambassadors, travelers and nomads all rolled up into one. In order to create programs that produce such individuals, we need to first reconcile our own biases and prejudices. There is a HUGE multi-lingual, multi-colorful, multi-cultural, multi-beautiful world out there and we desperately want to be citizens of it. Everyone who has ever taken the US citizenship exam knows that in order to get the coveted blue passport one needs to be able to effectively express herself in English, understand the political system (rights and duties included) and know not-so-very basic facts in US history. Its not any different with global citizenship. We need to create programs that teach our students the language of cultural diplomacy and how to effectively express themselves through it. When you come to think about it, what other language would serve them more in any given part of the world?  We need to lead by example and inspire through our own personal experiences in places located far off the beaten path so that they no longer are some unfamiliar dot on a map but become the “bustling city with unique traditions that my advisor visited two summers ago”. Lastly, we, the international education professionals need to demand more of ourselves and our respected institutions when it comes to preparing our students for true and meaningful global citizenship.

GerryBotchoukovaFarkovaAbout the Author:  Gerry Botchoukova-Farkova is an Innovation Associate at Melibee Global. In addition she currently serves as a Honorary BG Cultural Ambassador for Foundation Identity for Bulgaria, where she also heads the foundation’s English blog. Gerry has lived and studied in Spain, Bulgaria and the United States, and holds a B.A. in International Studies Summa Cum Laude from Bentley University. In her spare time she enjoys traveling and writing her blog entitled ~WithLoveFromBG~

  • Ward Thrasher

    You touch on the topic of “least resistance” in this article. I believe we, as a culture, have lost the drive to seek out the path of highest reward (which often means the path of greatest resistance). If you examine the academic fields our students seek, the content of many of the program we offer, it is evident we are not challenging our students to go beyond their comfort zones, at least not to the degree required for them to become leading citizens, let alone leading global citizens.

    People tend to seek out that which reinforce their already-held beliefs. If we look at the newspapers, magazines, websites and other sources of information people consume, we find they reinforce, rather than challenge, existing beliefs. This is, in large part (I believe) why we are seeing such polarization in our society. We have ignored the “big picture” view in favor of the uber-specialist perspective. We no longer value a broad understanding, celebrating instead the specialist who has a narrow view, a great depth of knowledge without the breadth of understanding required to see the system, to see the way his field fits in to the greater society.

    Can study abroad create global citizens? In short, yes, it can. Even when studying in cultures which closely resemble our own, these experiences help broaden perspective. And that is what is required. But I would suggest that simply exploring other cultures right in our own backyards will move us toward global citizenship. Exploring other socio-economic strata in our immediate neighborhoods can help broaden perspective and improve our functioning as global citizens.

    As with so many other aspects of life, the success or failure in achieving the goals we seek will be defined by the effort we exert in striving for those goals. Are we truly doing what is necessary, or only going through the motions?

    • Gerry

      Thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking comment. You conclude with: “As with so many other aspects of life, the success or failure in achieving the goals we seek will be defined by the effort we exert in striving for those goals. Are we truly doing what is necessary, or only going through the motions?” This thought is precisely what moved me to examine the correlation between study abroad programs and meaningful global citizenship. How much effort do all stakeholders in study abroad (students, administrators, educators, third party providers) really exert in creating programs that can open the door to true global citizenship? I would argue not very much (or at least not for the right reasons) as such programs are very few and far between. The cultural diplomacy component, which I believe is central to creating a strong, well balanced and purposeful program is often missing. In the States particularly, we are faced with the “number one mentality” of our culture which to a large extend is to blame for the low level of curiosity for the world beyond our shores. And when 300,000 of our students annually get curious, instead of encouraging them to push as far as possible outside of their comfort zones, we funnel them to the path of least resistance for both them and ourselves. As you have stated and I fully agree with it: “people tend to seek out that which reinforces their already-held beliefs…rather than challenge them” and challenge is what we need to be focused on.

  • Gerry
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