What it means to be a global citizen


Seven houses. Six schools. Five cities. Four dorms. Four visas. Three continents. Three passports. One green card. As someone who has put down roots in a variety of places, trying to determine what it means to be a global citizen has occupied the majority of my life. At times, it just seems easier to consider the hard numbers and the candid pros and cons of a global life than to try to gather up its abstract strings and assemble them into a legible tapestry of existence.

So here in a list of pros and cons is my best attempt at laying out what it means to be a global citizen, in my 19 years of experience:


  1. Having family scattered across the globe. Visiting them can serve as an excellent excuse to pack up your bags and escape to Japan (or Canada or the U.K.) for a while.
  2. Always having content for ice-breakers like Fun Facts and Two Truths and a Lie.
  3. Taking cultural diversity as a given and being inundated with global perspectives on singular issues.
  4. Mad chopstick skills.
  5. Observing deeper universal values across cultures that may appear to have contradictory codes or standards from afar.
  6. Seeing yourself as a citizen of the world free from nationalist sentiment that has the potential to turn hateful or exclusionary.


  1. Having family scattered across the globe. Realizing halfway through your junior year of high school that your father is the only family member in the same country as you and that he lives on the opposite coast can be mildly jarring.
  2. Answering the inevitable question “Where are you from?” and not having a concrete response to give. “Do you mean where I was born or where I live now or where I’ve lived the longest or…?”
  3. Having to muddle through the tricky in-between affair that is a mixed-race, multicultural existence in both the East and West.
  4. Not being able to vote in elections that you may feel very invested in.
  5. Navigating international politics with multiple affiliations, while lacking any strong national ties to a single country.

There you have it, broken down into two arbitrary chunks of bad and good, a single, shallow portrait of global citizenry. Although a handful of negatives and positives does little to represent the reality of a life of movement, it’s always helpful to remember the importance of cultural diversity and its potential joys in a world that seems eager to divide itself along borders of national alliance.

Contact Cecilia Atkins at catkins ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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