“A global citizen is someone who is aware of and understands the wider world – and their place in it. They take an active role in their community, and work with others to make our planet more equal, fair and sustainable” (OXFAM).
I grew up in a college town – Athens, Ohio – and I thought, for much of my growing up, that my circumstances were just about the same as everyone else. I would’ve told you I knew what diversity was because I had peers who were from other countries, children of visiting professors here for a year while their parents taught at Ohio University. I would’ve told you I knew what privilege was and that, although I was privileged to have been born into the family I was a part of, that I wasn’t that much better off than anyone else – after all, I did have to pay for my own gas for the car I got when I turned 16.
Perspective is an elusive trait – you don’t know you’re lacking perspective until you’ve gained some.
My junior year of high school, I had the opportunity to travel to Honduras and volunteer at an orphanage for children affected by HIV/AIDS – they either had the disease themselves, or lost their parents to it, and often, both. My passion for the Spanish language and my desire to pursue a career in healthcare spurred my interest in the trip and I still sponsor a child at the orphanage. The piece of perspective I gained on this trip is that happiness is independent of circumstance; that there is no external factor that is responsible for my outlook, mood, and overall well-being – that I alone choose my joy. Never before had I seen such pure love, happiness, and positivity than watching the children at Montaña de Luz play a game of fútbol, blissfully unperturbed by their lot in life.
Following my senior year of high school, I took my desire to work in a Spanish speaking population one step further, and spent five weeks living with a host family in Argentina. We worked in Los Galpones, which translates to “the sheds” and is a homeless community built in the town dump. We spent our days bringing lunches and clean water and teaching reading, writing, and math classes to the children who lived there. Again, I saw joy in what was, to me, an unexpected place. I also saw, despite the general positive outlook, a great need for basic necessities – clean water, sturdy shoes, education, and healthcare. I recall feeling struck by an overwhelming sense of guilt while reading with one of the girls living there. She was twelve years old and I, an eighteen year old American girl from Ohio, could read Spanish better than she could not because I was somehow better or smarter than she was, but because I had an opportunity handed to me on a silver platter to not only read books in my own native tongue, but to learn to read and write and speak in a second language. I gave her the book and she told me it was the first she had ever owned. My lesson in perspective came with a heaping side of humility.
I chose to embark on this journey to Norway because I have learned a simple truth – I will never be done learning. I am seeking an opportunity to continue my education, both in and out of the classroom, as I slowly, painfully, become a global citizen. I desire to play a role in creating a more equitable, fair, and sustainable world and to do so, I need to humbly admit that I know very little, but I am always willing and ready to learn.