“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself” – Leo Tolstoy (88)

Being a global citizen means a number of different things. Global citizens believe that everyone on Earth should be given an equal opportunity to reach his or her fullest potential. It’s being able to view humanity as a whole, picking out what parts are better off than others, and working to level the playing field for everyone. Many people travel all over the world giving humanitarian aid to different third world countries in order to help those in need. This is the easier part though; in order to become an effective global citizen, one must adhere to a mindset where they truly believe in everything they work towards. They don’t judge someone based on their age, race, class, etc, because they see all humans equally. This is much easier said than done. Becoming a true global citizen demands a person to be in touch with their surroundings; it’s a full-time job that demands a lot of effort to successfully achieve.

A global citizen should be able to look at past aid projects to use as models for the future. Functionalism constitutes that every person’s action has a number of different positive and negative consequences that are manifested throughout society. Most times the negative functions, called dysfunctions, are latent until someone realizes them. For example, after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, people came from all over the world to help. One positive function was that thousands of people were provided food and shelter by these aid organizations. A latent dysfunction was the spread of malaria throughout the region that resulted from the Haitians being exposed to all sorts of pathogens their immune systems weren’t ready for (Polman).

The goal of a global citizen, when taking on new aid projects, is to act as a functionalist for the region. Ideally an aid project would have no corresponding dysfunctions, but that’s highly unlikely. A global citizen should be able to seek out the positive functions of a project and work to minimize the dysfunction caused by the project. Latent functions should also be used to the global citizen’s advantage in learning how to model future aid projects.

One major latent dysfunction that we’ve become more aware of in the past decade is the ethnocentrism of many aid organizations and how it affects the perceptions of those being helped. When going to another country and viewing their culture for the first time, it’s near impossible not to judge it based on one’s own. Ethnocentrism is a huge problem among humanity, especially with providers of humanitarian aid. MSF (Doctors Without Borders) recognized this problem of ethnocentrism among their aid workers and did a study on how they are perceived by other cultures, and how it affects their aid. Called the “perception project,” MSF did something many organizations and aid workers would be too afraid to learn about, let alone publish for the world to see. In Abu-Sada’s book, “In the Eyes of Others”, she brilliantly outlines, “what ‘we’ experience is not what ‘they’ experience” (Donini 188). There will always be miscommunication and bias when different cultures come together and exchange customs.

One of the greatest obstacles in becoming a global citizen is overcoming ethnocentrism. Everyone is born with a certain biases engrained in themselves. It affects the way we think, the way we process information, and how view the world around us. It’s not our fault – blame human nature. For example, as humans, when we meet someone new and we don’t like one of the first things we learn about him or her, we subconsciously begin to pick up on every small thing we don’t like about that person to model their personality around. “At some point you will encounter another culture that will drive you crazy, and it will not be pretty” (“Tales from the Hood”). Ethnocentrism is just another form of bias that a person needs to learn to cancel out when providing development assistance to countries with vastly different cultures.

The first step to becoming a global citizen is education, and then comes the service portion. To properly be educated, one needs to experience the world by working on a global scale with those less fortunate. It’s a catch-22, which is partly why it’s so challenging. It’s also a huge responsibility, and forces a person to see, first hand, how unforgiving the world can be to those in third world countries. It’s tough to stay optimistic as a global citizen, something Kenneth Cain struggled with a lot in “Emergency Sex.” Being able to look back on his past experiences, and past failures, helped him build a more positive future. “The very notion of global citizenship is a challenge: it suggests big responsibilities into a small world” (British Columbia). Even when they aren’t doing work around the world, being a global citizen demands that one weighs the large-scale consequences of their everyday actions. Global citizenship is a full-time job.


Anonymous. “Confronting the Demons Of Ethnocentrism.” Tales From the Hood. WordPress, 17 June 2011. Web.

Arcaro, Tom. “Beyond the Pledge of Allegiance: Becoming a Responsible World Citizen.”

Cain, Kenneth, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson. “Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures.” London. 2004. Print.

Donini, Antonio. “Humanitarianism, Perceptions, Power.” In the Eyes of Others. Ed. Caroline Abu-Sada. N.p.: Doctors Without Borders, 2012. 183-92. Print.

Polman, Linda. War Games. London: Penguin, 2010. Print.

The University of British Columbia. “Defining – and Modeling – Global Citizenship.” – UBC 2004 / 05 Annual Report. N.p., 2004. Web.

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