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What is a Global Citizen

What is a Global Citizen? “I am no more modern than ancient, no more French than Chinese, and the idea of a native country – that is to say, the imperative to live on one bit of ground marked red or blue on the map and to hate the other bits in green or black [...]

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What is a Global Citizen?

“I am no more modern than ancient, no more French than Chinese, and the idea of a native country – that is to say, the imperative to live on one bit of ground marked red or blue on the map and to hate the other bits in green or black – has always seemed to me narrow-minded, blinkered and profoundly stupid. I am a soul brother to everything that lives, to the giraffe and to the crocodile as much as to man.”
-Gustave Flaubert

“The concept of global citizenship dates back as far as the Stoics of ancient Greece and Rome who pledged primary allegiance to the universal ideals of justice and honor over their allegiance to the polis or city-state. One of the earliest known declarations of global citizenship that is frequently cited by scholars came from the ancient Greek Cynic philosopher Diogenes of Sinope. When asked where he came from, he would reply, “I am a citizen of the world.”
Global Citizenship

Like Diogenes, I once called myself a citizen of the world. I even have the Greek “Kosmo-Polites Eimi” – I am a global citizen – tattooed across the inside of my right palm as an ironic gesture for immigration inspectors when I hand them my passport. But after knocking about the planet for a number of years, I am beginning to get the impression that I have grown to scorn the idea of global citizenship as the pretentious reserve of imperial cultures, all while finding myself fitting the deep meaning of the description:

“Global Citizenship is both a moral and ethical disposition which might guide an individual or groups’ understanding of the world in local and global contexts — and their relative responsibilities within different communities.” –Global Citizenship

Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Brooklyn, New York City- December 11, 2008

Travelogue Travel Photos

When I first had an old friend tattoo “citizen of the world” across my palm with a half home made tattoo machine in 2003, another friend objected to the definition strongly. “Why,” he chided, “would you want to be a citizen of the world? Why would you want to be a citizen of anything?

I knew where he was going and gave the general spiel in support of global citizenship. “A global citizen stretches the boundaries of nationality and political identification and blah, blah, blah into infinity.”

I held then, as I do now, a passport from the USA, declaring for all that I am a citizen of a particular nation-state and that I am not really a citizen of the world. I defended my tattoo by saying that it was meant figuratively, that it was only for the sake of the statement, for the purpose of intention.

I had just begun my travels at this point and sought only to confirm the prejudices that I absorbed in my adolescence. I had previously read about a world full of oppression, starvation, deprivation, and inequality, and this is what I set out to find. As an American I felt guilty and sought to exterminate my Americaness by believing in the notion of global citizenship.

I believed in these superficial ideas of global citizenship and enrolled in an international studies college called the Friends World Program, which had the slogan of “Global Citizenship for Social Change,” in the spring of 2004. This school claimed to assemble and plop out global citizens by the manufactured dozen. This school actually manufactures heretics.

I was soon to realize that I am not ever in a place to ever force myself upon other peoples, and that my political “awareness” was actually being manifested as another form of cultural imperialism. To think that I had responsibility to the meek of the world was to degrade the meek even further.

I kept traveling though and began to realize that the human condition in the world was clearly not as bad as I had been lead to believe by scholars, journalists, and NGOs scrubbing for money. It became apparent that people who live in mud huts without money are not necessarily impoverished, and, even if they are, it is not my place to try to change their lives.

My ideas of global citizenship as represented by international activism crumbled, I realized that the Pied Piper is a dick.

Is it possible to be a Global Citizen? Or is the very notion the rebellious underpinnings of those raised in imperially minded cultures . . . Like Diogenes in Greece. It would sound funny for me to hear a Nicaraguan, an Albanian, or a Ugandan spouting off rhetoric about being global citizens. This just doesn’t really happen. Perhaps global citizenship is an idea that can only be harnessed by those who are raised in cultures who feel they have an inherent right to impact every other culture across the world.

Global citizenship is imperialism for the good guys.

Though the notion of global citizenship also streams out of the realm of the political and into that of personal philosophy. I must ask myself this question: Is it really possible for me to be no more American as Chinese, as Flaubert once claimed for himself? Can someone really disintegrate their acculturation and replace it with a real global consciousness that is derived from the philosophy, world-view, and knowledge of dozens of different cultures?


But by claiming “global citizenship” I knew that I was acquiescing with the tidings and trends of my culture.

As I grew older and traveled more this began to fade. And this fading of an idea of global citizenship was perhaps the beginning of my fitting of the definition.

I am an American. And by being as such, fully, I can be a part of the world I live in – I can be a global citizen by acting the part myself – without pretension, without any fluff or pomp.

Travel changes, molds, and reshapes your view of the world – your view of yourself. But this happens slowly. Superficial claims to global citizenship are just that: superficial.

Perhaps true global citizenship lays in being what you are without intentional reshaping, without monkying, and without pretending. Perhaps global citizenship only means playing your part on the global stage without stepping on the toes of your fellow actors.

It is interesting to me that Flaubert claimed global citizenship at the height of French imperialism, Diogenes did the same in Greece, and now I tackle the idea from America. Perhaps claiming global citizenship is nothing more than a middle finger response to your own imperialist culture, all while acting in tune with its tidings.

Global Citizenship – Toward a Definition
Global Citizenship
Friends World Program
Wikipedia Global Citizenship

What is a Global Citizen?


Filed under: Anthropology, New York City, Travel Philosophy, USA

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3691 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Trenton, Maine

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  • Anonymous March 10, 2010, 8:26 pm

    Interesting Article, and I must say I enjoyed reading it.

    Do you have an email that I might perhaps use to send you some questions?

    I would like to learn your opinion on a topic I chose (related to global citizenship) for some competition that I am planning to do.


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