• Ivan A. Kirchgaesser

My starting point

Updated: Oct 13, 2018

Having grown up across different countries, I never primarily thought of myself as a citizen of a nation state. What I feel instead is a sense of belonging to the world.


Right in the beginning, I have to say that I am not sure if identifying as a creature that belongs to the world is the same as being a 'global citizen'. However, the term global citizen is used widely and it seems worth exploring. Especially since there are many different ways of understanding global citizenship! The purpose of this exploration is to find out more about what global citizenship means to people - if it means anything at all. What are your thoughts, experiences, and assumptions? Have you ever even thought about it? By engaging in dialogue with anyone who would like to join me, I hope this exploration can enable a new and creative engagement with the potentially powerful image of the global citizen.


The image above shows the place on the planet where I currently live. This place is Oxford, in the south of England. We often get this golden light which makes the clouds look purple when the sun is low. The light is quite different in the places where I grew up. In Leverkusen, the city in Germany where I was born, the light often filters through thick, white cloud, creating an eery, shadowless world. In the Netherlands, there is much more movement in the sky. Often, the light is silvery and bright, creating stark contrasts between the blue of the sky and the green of the fields.


Moving between these different landscapes has created a rich inner geography in me. Through every place I have come to know a particular atmosphere, which has special characteristics and yet changes all the time depending on the weather, time of the day, and time of the year. The transition between different places is fluid, there are no fixed boundaries. Crossing the border between the two countries where I spent my childhood therefore always felt somewhat arbitrary.


When I was old enough to begin to wonder who I was and where I belonged, I quickly realised that I was different from many of my peers. Usually, what connected them was a shared history in a particular place. When I raised this with my mother, she said not to worry, because in my life I would benefit from a different kind of experience. "Jij bent een wereldburger!", she said. You are a citizen of the world. That seemed like an exciting option to me. It didn't mean that I couldn't forge meaningful connections with people in my place of residence, or wherever I went, but I would always bear in mind that my life was happening in the context of a bigger picture.


Realising that I am playing my part in the symphony of the world is essential in my understanding of what it means to be a global citizen. Moving around geographically doesn't seem to be the crucial factor, although it has helped me not to forget that the planet stretches onward and onward beyond the horizon, and that most of its lands and seas are utterly unknown to me. It fills me with awe. Yet, in this time of globalisation, climate change, and social media I know that my sphere of influence reaches far beyond where I am currently located. I am reminded to tread carefully, because I am the only one responsible for my choices and actions. Through what I do, through the way I shape my own life, I am also a co-shaper of society. And since my human society shares its planetary home with countless other-than-human creatures, they too are part of my larger community. Having grown up in a wealthy part of the world, I have the privilege of making many choices. The least I can do is to try and honour them.


This story is the background of my own understanding of global citizenship, it is the starting point for my exploration. I am aware that it might be very different for other people. Therefore, I would like to get into dialogue with anyone who is interested to share their thoughts and experiences with me. Reflections on these conversations will be published on this blog.

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