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Symposium exercise in global citizenship

by Micheline Soong, assistant professor of English

Editor’s note: Dr. Soong is chair of the University Scholars Honors program and was keynote speaker at HPU’s third student symposium on Global Citizenship, Oct. 30 at the windward campus. Following are excerpts from her speech. Edited, of course.
The HPU Mission Statement says “Our innovative undergraduate and graduate programs anticipate the changing needs of the community and prepare our graduates to live, work, and learn as active members of a global society.” It’s one thing to say you do something, and it is another thing entirely to actually try to assess if you truly are accomplishing what it is you say you do. Is HPU truly giving you the tools and opportunity to become “active members of a global society in your time here as a student? In order to answer this question, the University began to examine its educational effectiveness in this area with this strategic goal: “HPU will develop and disseminate multiple University definitions of ‘global citizenship’ that provide students with a framework within which to create, practice, and refine their own definitions.”

This brings us to the pertinent question: What is a global citizen?

We are finding that this question is not as straightforward and clear-cut as it appears to be in our school’s mission statement. We discovered in our previous two student symposia that a person does not become of citizen of the globe by simply existing in it. While we may be members of a culturally diverse university, we must stretch ourselves to go beyond our own zones of comfort and familiarity; we must make an effort to see the world through other people’s eyes and learn from our differences. If we do not, we could go through our time here at HPU without truly interacting with each other in a meaningful way or developing an idea of what it means to be a global citizen.

As individuals, we are shaped by our own experiences and values growing up. Growing up in either an affluent neighborhood, or in a neighborhood where access to resources is severely limited, will shape whether one’s concern about subsistence, just surviving each day, necessarily dominates a sense of obligation to the environment, or to the welfare of other nations and cultures.

As majors of different disciplines, you construct your reality of the world from very different frameworks. What a global citizen means for a business major may be very different from an environmental studies major, an international studies major, or a student of military diplomacy. A business major may consider most important being able to work effectively in a variety of cultural situations and languages to promote free enterprise.

An environmental studies major might be more concerned with the impact an individual, a community, or a culture has on the limited resources of the globe.

An anthropology major might have concerns about what effort we, as students in Hawai‘i, have made to understand Hawaiian cultural values and history. The attitudes we hold about our role as visitors must surely help define the kind of global citizen we are in practice.

The third student symposium is an outgrowth of the two previous ones. In our first student symposium in fall 2003, 23 undergraduate students from LIT 2510, a world literature course, presented their ideas of what global citizenship meant to them. When we first opened up the discussion on global citizenship, the terms “globalization” and “global citizenship” were being used interchangeably.

Discussions within groups made it clear that “globalization” and “global citizenship” are two distinct concepts.

In the second symposium in the spring of 2004, “globalization” was examined from a business, history, and English studies perspective, and “global citizenship” from an anthropology, global leadership, and English studies perspective. While this symposium clarified many of the differences between the two concepts, it was clear that we were progressing toward returning the next symposium to the audience. It is now time for students to actively contribute to developing a better sense of what characteristics are important to becoming, and to being, a global citizen.


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