Elon University prides itself as an institution that helps create global citizens. We can see aspects of this mindset in the required freshmen class “The Global Experience,” the International Station at Lakeside and various international studies and language programs across campus.
But, when it comes to creating global leaders, there’s one Elon experience that Elon loves to use to promote itself the most: study abroad. Studying abroad is certainly a great opportunity to learn, but being a global citizen is so much more, and so much more accessible.
This is not a critique of the Global Education Center or of the study abroad programs they offer. I consider my semester in Haifa, Israel to be one of the highlights of my time at Elon and some of the best five months of my life.
Living abroad can give you an incredible appreciation of and respect for another country and culture. At Elon, this sometimes means we treat the opportunity to study abroad as the end-all, be-all of a global education. However, this both limits us in the other ways we can be global citizens and makes becoming a truly global citizen a privilege not all can afford.
Global doesn’t just mean "on another continent." The idea that all global citizenry should focus on societies that are half a world away is an arbitrary restriction.
Most Elon students don’t wander far from campus in their day-to-day lives. The rest of Alamance County and North Carolina are part of the world. They have a lot of culture and history to offer, especially for students coming from outside of the southeast.
You can also stay local and experience parts of cultures that originate from a litter further away. There are so many restaurants with international cuisines within a short driving distance.
Everybody needs to eat, and this is an easy, inexpensive way to learn something about another culture in a way that also supports local businesses. If you don’t even want to leave campus, taking a class or going to the library can be a great start to learning about people who have experiences different than your own.
Being a global citizen isn’t just about knowledge, it’s about action too. Our actions can influence the lives of others around the world. When you’re shopping, try to be aware of where your purchases are coming from. Some of your chocolate purchases may be supporting slavery, others may be contributing to habitat destruction.
Global citizens should also consider global warming, especially since this week is Earth Week. Climate change is impacting communities around the world, many much worse than what North Carolina is experiencing.
Reducing your carbon footprint and supporting sustainably-minded businesses can help reduce your contribution to the climate change devastating island nations in the Pacific and exacerbating tensions in the Middle East.
If you want to become a global citizen, there are so many ways to do it without having to travel the world. As much work as Elon does to make studying abroad affordable for all students, it isn’t always an option. If we always think of studying abroad as the only way to be a global citizen, we are excluding members of our own community and large proportions of the rest of the world who don’t have the same opportunity. That’s not really thinking globally at all.