When I was growing up, I never noticed any diversity in my community. People looked the same, held the same beliefs, ate the same kind of food, and spoke the same language. My small community was like a disconnected bubble from the outside world to the extent that I didn’t even question how the outside world functions. It lacked and still lacks diversity. In such environment, the only way to discover the outside world was through my parents. When I was a child, I would ask them about their trips abroad. My mother would tell me about her first time on an airplane, how she landed in France for the first time and experienced diversity and moreover how that experience changed her life and perspective forever. My father would also tell me about his Europe tour, how he taught Arabic in France when he was young, and how traveling opened a lot of doors for him. I wanted to be just like them, travelers, multilingual, and global citizens who appreciated diversity and the interconnection of our world.
I remember the first step I took towards that goal, which was learning English. It wasn’t for the sake of becoming multilingual, but more so I can understand what’s going on in the world around me. I remember how the English language opened my eyes to the rest of the world. I started reading articles and books from all over the world, and I was able to discover countries I’ve never heard of before. It was my first glimpse into the rest of the world, and my first introduction to the diversity of the world. When I read those articles, I knew that the common model in my community wasn’t the same as the rest of the world. I understood that not everyone in the world is Muslim, not everyone speaks Arabic, and especially not everyone eats Couscous all the time!
When I was learning English, I never knew how it would open so many doors in my life. A few years after mastering the language, I got a scholarship to go abroad as an exchange student. Once I landed in the US, I was extremely eager to put my global citizenship into practice. I spoke to the customs officers in fluent English, and introduced myself as an exchange student. I spent a year in the US and during this time I noticed the level of comfort I was feeling even though I was out of my comfort zone.
Even though I was only 16 years old at this time, moving to a whole new country with no prior knowledge of its culture and traditions, I felt at home. And I questioned that, I began wondering how come I didn’t feel like a foreigner when I was supposed to? Was it the absence of the language barrier? Was it my adaptability to new situations?
And that’s when it hit me! It was my global citizenship being put into practice. It was my appreciation of diversity and multiculturalism that made me so comfortable in a country I’ve never been to. I was no longer a Tunisian in the US, I was just a citizen of the world who happened to be in the US.
Since my return from the US 3 years ago, the definition of home shifted from the place where I was born or grew up to any place I chose to call home. I’m officially a citizen and resident of Tunisia, but home was everywhere to me! It was everywhere I chose to be, and everywhere I felt comfortable (and also everywhere willing to grant me a VISA!)
But the same way being a citizen of a certain country imposes certain rules on individuals, being a global citizen also comes with a whole set of responsibilities: to respect differences, accept others, and pay genuine attention to global issues as well as to try your best to solve them. Being a global citizen allowed me to be as interested in my country’s issues as I am to anything happening somewhere else in any other part of the world.