By Nicholas Mattock
Modern life makes routine – normal, comfortable, known – exceedingly easy. With the rise of social technologies, many of which are specifically designed to feed us content we agree with, the resulting echo chamber encourages conforming to comfortable norms of social, cultural, and political opinion. Global citizenship is, to me, a concept that encourages challenging these norms, and in turn, challenging oneself. As my time at Ustinov College, participating in the Global Citizenship Exchange, comes to an end, this post is designed to reflect on the ways in which we have examined these norms, and the challenges to my perceptions of global citizenship and social wellbeing.
Building personal capacities and skills is a cornerstone of the Global Citizenship Program at Ustinov, and more generally within the global citizenship framework. As an avid participant in a number of programs designed to exercise social change, there is no doubt in my mind that such activities produce change in their target communities. Whilst volunteering at Sanctuary 21 – a drop-in centre in Durham for vulnerable individuals – it was evident to me the change one can produce. However, it is less clear what the reciprocal benefits are to the individual. As a medical student, naturally, I see this relationship through the lens of health, and was intrigued by the effect of global citizenship on self-perceptions of health in students. To investigate this relationship, I administered a short survey with the help of the Ustinov college student representative team, that explored self-reported perceptions of health (based on the Short-Form 36, but abridged for student attention spans!) and participation in activities of global citizenship. Unanimously, participants agreed that these global citizenship activities had a positive effect on their perceptions of health. Further, the majority of students involved in such activities had exceptionally high self-rated physical and mental health scores. It remains to be seen whether we run this survey elsewhere, but despite the limited sample the results were clear: students involved in activities of global citizenship don’t just produce change in their communities, but also in themselves.
In 2016, via the McCusker Centre at the University of Western Australia (UWA), I was invited to spend a number of weeks in the Kimberley, in the far north of Western Australia, in an Australian Aboriginal community that was located 8 hours from the nearest town. At the time, I wrote in my report:
Perhaps the greatest burden of a modern Western upbringing is a narrow perspective. As an aspiring medical professional, it’s tempting to think of medicine as a safe-haven for the progressive and inclusive – where medical professionals understand the needs of all members of our society, not just those whom are most privileged.
In essence, I felt at the time that global citizenship was about engaging with social issues that we would otherwise fail to address. This is, undoubtedly, a core component of global citizenship. However, the Global Citizenship Exchange has taught me to think, again, further afield: global citizenship need not be singularly focused on social issues, but instead the ways in which we enmesh. Such interactions are many and varied, from a range of different academic fields. From Scottish history to the politics of revolution (as told by a Brazilian professor, of course), the Global Citizenship Exchange at Ustinov College was a way of being immersed in these social and cultural topics that, in turn, allow me to understand the perspectives and issues of our global community – especially those external to my field of study. In many respects, global citizenship can be thought of as the step before social activism and engagement. That is, global citizenship is the means through which we forge relationships – personally and professionally – such that we can tackle these global problems, successfully. Ustinov College and the McCusker Centre for Citizenship have taught me this many times over, and have helped me build the skills necessary to continue such activities in the future – whether professionally, personally, or otherwise. Reciprocally, I would like to think that this exchange, the first of its kind, has helped the McCusker Centre at UWA and Ustinov College at Durham University build long-term relationships, that will blossom not just into further bilateral exchange opportunities, but also academic collaboration. Truly, global citizenship.