Learning How to be a Citizen of the World

This guest blog is by Ava Apollo. When she’s not writing for MSW, she’s blogging about adventure travel at bemytravelmuse.com

The term “citizen of the world,” or “global citizen,” gets thrown around often in the travel community.  It sometimes seems as though it is used as a rite of passage into the “club” populated by those who fancy themselves part of the jet-setter elite, from nomads who are constantly on the move, to casual travelers who get out once every year or so.

It’s not the frequency, it’s the metamorphosis.

This got me thinking about what the term means to me, having studied International Studies at my university and having lived abroad previously.  To me, the essence of being a citizen of the world is not to be a nomadic globe-trotter who has had to add pages to my passport seven times, but rather, to be someone who has been changed by being abroad.  As someone who went through culture shock, questioning the way things were done abroad, and then experiencing reverse culture shock when back home, I realized that I actually missed the differences.

Ergo, I believe it means to be someone who is willing to grow, and willing to learn when he/she has been wrong.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of living and traveling abroad is to accept the cultural differences. Really, this requires a fundamental change in thinking.  It requires understanding that there are other ways of doing things.  This is one of the hardest things to accept: that perhaps doing things the way you’re used to isn’t the best way after all.   Taking it a step further, it requires not only understanding, but appreciation, respect, and even developing a love of the differences.  After all, craving something different is what pushes so many of us to travel in the first place, isn’t it?

As travelers aspiring to be good global citizens, I believe the single most important trait is to stop looking for answers, and instead to ask questions.  After all, life is about questions: What will this journey bring? How do other people in the world lead their lives? Why are these people so happy even though they have nothing?  Why can’t I be happy even though I have so much more? Why do we do things this way?  Why ARE we here?  What does all of it mean?

I’ve heard it said before that it is about the journey rather than the destination.  I hate a silly cliche as much as the next person, but damnit, this one’s true.  More than that, the journey is internal just as much as it is external, forcing us to question who we are and what we believe.

Find reasons to smile

Personally, living abroad brought me a new appreciation for my home country, along with a whole host of questions about how we run things around here.  Before experiencing life abroad, it was easy to complain about never having enough.  Not enough jobs, not enough health coverage for the sick, not enough access to affordable education, too much debt, too much greed, the list goes on.  After coming home, I realized that while all of these things are still problems, they are laughable compared to what those in developing countries go through.

It also made me realize that happiness isn’t bought.  There are ups and downs for everyone in the world, from the poorest farmer to the richest tech billionaire, we’ll always find problems, and we’ll always seek solutions.

So, as global citizens, we all have a very important responsibility: to respect and admire, to leave each place a little bit better than when we arrived, to care about social injustice and to do something about it, to never lose the hunger to learn, and to always appreciate the gift we’ve been given: the ability to experience the world.  So many will never have this gift.

It’s certainly not easy, and I have to gently remind myself each time I travel to try to be more understanding and appreciative.

In closing, I want to know, what made you realize that you’re a global citizen as it fits your definition? What do you do to be a better global citizen? Most importantly, how has being abroad changed you? 


*Thumbnail photo by dleavittlynn 


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4 thoughts on “Learning How to be a Citizen of the World


    (November 25, 2011 - 2:00 am)


    I am so glad to see you back after a bit of a hiatus, especially when you come back with an incredible article like this.

    I thank myself every day for having the wisdom and the courage to get out of my comfort zone and start traveling when I did. Previously, what I knew of the world was information that I had gleaned from books and from the road trips that my family went on when I was young. I felt that I was fairly world savvy back then, but it wasn’t until I moved to China that I began to realize what global citizenship encompasses. Respect for other cultures, patience and tolerance of different points of view, learning to understand why people behave the way they do and caring about what happens in other places in the world as much as I care about what is happening in my own hometown are just a few of the things that I’ve learned along the way. This process is always evolving and I am always learning, and that is just a small part of what being a global citizen is all about.

      Ava Apollo

      (November 28, 2011 - 4:41 pm)


      Thanks for your kind comment 🙂

      I forgot that essential word: courage. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to move abroad and challenge one’s belief system. It requires even more to make somewhere so foreign one’s home for the long term like you have! At the same time, I can’t imagine a more exciting and stimulated life. That’s a major perk of being a global citizen.


    (January 27, 2012 - 10:06 am)

    Thanks Ava for the beautiful article. I love it!

    I would like to answer your question :-
    What made you realize that you’re a global citizen as it fits your definition?
    I love and inspired to travel around the world meeting people for work and leisure.

    What do you do to be a better global citizen? Most importantly, how has being abroad changed you?
    Trust and Respect.
    I appreciate every single moment, especially when I back home in Malaysia.

      Ava Apollo

      (February 2, 2012 - 10:21 pm)

      “I appreciate every single moment,” – I like that!

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