An Argument for International Citizenship

And How to Take a First Step

“I learnt an enormous amount from trialing and testing.”

International Citizenship starts by individuals thinking and acting on the global level above all else, writes Jonathan Eccles. ‘My personal efforts really developed through my time in Leiden.’

Identity is one the most defining elements of the human condition. Pigeons do not have the need to justify their existence, and nor do forests of trees concern themselves with their raison d’etre (as far as mainstream science explains).
But on a vast array of levels we as human beings seek to identify ourselves, to define who we are and what we stand for. Although this happens across an enormous and complex spectrum, the highest unit of identity is almost always national identity. But whilst nationality can go a long way to expressing identity, can it not also be problematic to place such a high value on the passport that we carry?
National citizenship is by definition an act of inclusion, but also of exclusion. As each country defines the ‘special’ characteristics that make their population unique there is a contrast being made against everybody else, against those who do not fulfill such particular criteria. Whilst this has its various benefits, it also provides a drive and rational for each nation state to put their interests above that of any other. And it is this focus on national self-interest that is so damaging on the broader global scale. Yet there is no reason why this particular struggle for superiority should be the natural state of international order.
Continuous competition does not have to rule global relations, true cooperation is eminently possible. Of course people will say that an egalitarian world of peaceful coexistence is an absurd dream (and this may well be true). Still for me the key idea behind International Citizenship is that we aim to get as close to this ideal as possible, which starts by individuals thinking and acting on the global level above all else.
My personal efforts in this respect really grew and developed through my time in Leiden as I undertook an MA in International Relations. This was my introduction to the macro level of the problem, therefore when I graduated it was the micro level that I wanted to better understand.
I wanted to practically engage with the theoretical issues I had encountered, to see how they manifest themselves in the most disadvantaged parts of the world away from Western obfuscation, and to see what change was possible at the local level. This is why I chose to relocate to rural Nicaragua to volunteer for 6 months with Raleigh International on a programme appropriately titled ‘International Citizen Service’.
Here I lead groups of 12 volunteers from various parts of the world on two separate 3 month projects. Firstly one on Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and then an entrepreneur project helping to set up small businesses in another rural community. I learnt an enormous amount from trialing and testing different forms of development, from picking up a new language, from leading a cross-cultural team, and of course just through living in with a local host family and being able to appreciate how the world works from their perspective.
Whilst I took up this opportunity for quite specific reasons, International Citizen Service appeals to a range of different people. Essentially if you are socially minded, and are interested in following such ideas in an international setting, then this programme is highly recommended.
Each person has their individual motivations for going and will take away distinct experiences and learning. Still, it is my personal hope that programmes such as this will help develop a new generation of people who identify proudly with their nationality, but above all whose fundamental identity and responsibility belongs with their International Citizenship.

Details on the ICS programme can be found at: www.volunteerics.org

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