Responsible curiosity: what it means to be a global citizen

“I see global citizenship as involving a sense of open-mindedness and adaptability”

Global citizenship has become quite a political and controversial concept. In 2016, the UK Prime Minister at the time, Theresa May, declared “today, too many people in positions of power behave as though they have more in common with international elites than with the people down the road, the people they employ, the people they pass in the street…. But if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means”.

And then, in 2019, Donald Trump told the United Nations General Assembly that “the future does not belong to the globalists. The future belongs to the patriots”.

I don’t agree with either of these statements, writes Martin Hall, head of school at ACS International School Hillingdon.

The comments were intended to stir up deeply unpleasant reactions among people, and I think they also profoundly misunderstand what is meant by global citizenship. As a headteacher at an international school, I am naturally intrigued by global citizenship, both the concept and the practical application of it through how we live our everyday lives.

For me, though born in north-east Scotland in what felt like the most isolated city in the world, I feel that in my childhood I developed a curiosity and hunger to experience the world. I do not believe, however, that the concept of global citizenship is just about travel, nor do I think it absolutely needs adventure.

I view global citizenship as a concept that requires two things from an individual: to have curiosity about the world, and to have a sense of responsibility towards others.

When delving into what global citizenship means from the perspective of having curiosity, it’s about exploring, not just through travel, but exploring cultures and languages, and the way people live their lives outside of our immediate local area.

Through this learning and understanding, I believe a sense of responsibility is born.

For our students at ACS Hillingdon, I see global citizenship as involving a sense of open-mindedness and adaptability, a willingness to communicate in someone else’s language. It’s finding courage to face unfamiliar ideas and situations; identifying big questions and problems and then focussing on building bridges between people, rather than amplifying divisions.

That’s not about having a naïve sense of the world and it’s definitely not about moral neutrality towards wrong-doing, but it is about pragmatism and basic savviness about life – you are much more likely to find solutions to whatever the problem is if you can find some common ground with whomever you’re dealing with.

To become a global citizen, you also need to sometimes accept humility, acknowledging that there are other ways of doing things and that, just because someone else’s way makes you a bit uncomfortable or uneasy, that doesn’t mean it does not have as much merit.

A global citizen chooses to be aware of the way others live their lives and how their own personal actions can directly impact and worsen, or make better, the lives of others across the globe – they understand that they are part of a global community.

Using the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change as key examples of global issues, each individual on the planet has been forced to realise that our individual actions do indeed collectively impact others across the globe. Whether that’s through what we buy, if we travel, and, at the beginning of this year, whether we chose to stay at home.

As both an educator and a parent, I feel responsible to spark curiosity in my children and our school’s students so that they may take it upon themselves to learn to truly understand the lives of others around the world.

To do this, we can provide opportunities and encouragement for them to grow in their capacity and experiences, for example: by learning a language; walking in someone else’s shoes; and most, of all staying humble, especially when they’re in someone else’s space – we all have so much to learn.

While our capacity to explore the world physically is currently so limited, I would encourage all young people to read books, watch programmes about their world, listen to music from all over the world and find out how to put their citizenship of this amazing world into action.


About the author: Martin Hall is head of school at ACS International School Hillingdon. He has taught at highly regarded state schools in England, and served as secondary principal at the Inter-Community School of Zurich, and most recently, as director of the international school of Tanganyika in Tanzania.