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Becoming a Global Citizen


When I was 10, I collected stamps from different countries, played Pirate & Traveler (a board game based upon a map of the world), checked our family’s mailbox for letters from my Japanese pen pal, and read some books about kids in other countries when I could find them (there weren’t many, at least not in Richmond Hill Public Library). International air travel was unaffordable. And besides, we didn’t know anybody who lived outside the U.S. (Uncle Marty and Aunt Dotty and 3 cousins lived in California, but everyone else we knew lived in or near New York City). My opportunities to learn about the world were limited. If I was 10 years old today, I would have a lot more options.

Today, I could collect images from every country and every city in the world and thousands of villages, too. If I was 10, I could study animals from everywhere; learn dozens of languages on my iPhone; watch movies and TV shows from 50 or 60 countries online; and use Google Street View to stroll around Machu Picchu. I would know all about time zones because I would play games with kids all over the world and I would know what time the went to sleep and woke up. I could watch music videos from Morocco and New Zealand. I could find lists and reviews of books about kids from everywhere: Monsoo about a young girl in Northern India; Waiting for the Biblioburro about waiting for the arrival of a mobile library in rural Colombia; Galimoto about a boy building his own toy in Malawi; or when I grew up a bit more, Zahra’s Paradise, a graphic novel about fear and oppression in Iran. With my parents’ credit card, I could buy any of them, new or used, by pressing a button (and requesting next day delivery). Or find them online in the Queens Public Library database.

And I would want to visit kids all over the world (which is, in my grown-up reality, one of my very favorite things to do when traveling.)

The international tourism industry is growing as a result of “diversification of source markets,” and “strong outbound travel from emerging markets, especially India and Russia, but also from smaller Asian and Arab source markets.” In other words, the airlines sold 8 times as many airline tickets in 2015 as they did in 1970—and it’s not only adults who are traveling. Kids are traveling, too. (More research required, but…) Maybe 1 in 20 travelers is a kid. For example, in 1995, about 300,000 people traveled to Bolivia, and in 2017, 1.1 million people did—so maybe 50,000 kids visited Bolivia, probably for the first time in their lives. The numbers are even higher for travel to Senegal and The Gambia: 325,000 in 1995 compared with 1.6 million in 2017. More people travel to and from China than any place in the world: 150 million overseas trips in 2018, about 15x as many as in 2000. I wonder: how many kids traveled to another country last week? What’s that number going to be in 2050?

Assuming humans started out in Africa (a complicated story that we may address in a future article), we “started to move out of the continent about 60,000 years ago.” Many large migrations were forced: for example, 16 million Africans taken as slaves to North and South America, the Arab lands and Europe. Others were motivated by economics and political conditions: during the 19th and early 20th centuries, more than 50 million people emigrated from Europe to the U.S.A. in the largest ever international free movement of people.” (There is lots more to discuss within nations, notably India and China, also Africa; refugees; asylum; immigration policy, but let's keep this article manageable.)

In the 21st century, there are a lot more people on the move than ever before. There’s an obvious reason why: there are a lot more people on earth than ever before. And it costs less to travel long distances. People know a lot more about many more places than they did before, too. Their families are more scattered. Their desire to travel, and perhaps relocate, is now matched by increased capacity to do so. This is a messy administrative problem for governments and a vexing philosophical problem for people who prefer the 20th century status quo. This story is still in its early chapters. BTW: while you were reading this paragraph, 50 babies were born: about 25 in Asia, 20 in Africa, the others in the Americas and Europe.


“…the last time we all lived in the same place was in 1996, the year my older sister left Ireland for college in England. Now I live in New York, thousands of miles away from them all…I have these 6 girls, now women, and 1 boy, now man…my family. Their offspring are also mine, and with the arrival of a chubby baby boy earlier this year they number 7. We are spread across the world, in the United Arab Emirates, in Jordan, in England, in Ireland and in the United States. Our primary form of contact is a group WhatsApp chat: my parents and the eight children. Just the 10 of us…Bad news and difficult conversations are reserved for phone calls and visits. The WhatsApp group is chatter to let us know the small stuff, to keep us company wherever we are. It’s this small stuff, these wispy threads, that weave seamlessly into a fabric that stretches over the time and space between us.” This story was written by Irish comedian Maeve Higgins (born 1981). Imagine the stories this family’s children and grandchildren will tell in 2030, 2050 and 2100.

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