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What does it mean to be a global citizen?

Dorie Clark
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For many professionals, global citizenship – the idea of embracing an international perspective and lifestyle – is a fact of life if you want to be informed, engaged and successful. With new technologies and cheaper travel options, it’s easier than ever to span borders in our personal and professional lives. Here are some of the key factors that have made this transition possible, and a few thoughts on what’s still holding us back.

Perhaps the biggest enabler of global citizenship has been the decreased cost of communication. You can’t do business with someone around the world if you can’t even afford to talk to them. Even 15 years ago, when I was dating someone who lived two hours away in the same US state, my monthly phone bill could run into hundreds of dollars. Tomorrow, I’m scheduled to have calls with colleagues in South Africa and Canada (which in the past would have been almost as expensive). WhatsApp, WeChat and Skype have made global communication free or ever closer to it.

Another key factor has been the stabilization of one’s contact information. In the early days of the internet, your email address was tied to your service provider, so if you switched from Prodigy to CompuServe to AOL, your address would change each time, complicating efforts to stay in touch with colleagues and clients. Web-based email addresses (and the increasing practice of professionals owning their own domain name) mean that people can continue to reach you. Similarly, contact in Federal Communication Commission regulations requiring number portability between landline and wireless phones (and when you switch carriers) mean that it’s been years since I’ve had to update a contact’s mobile phone number. Couple that with the rise of personal websites and LinkedIn profiles, and almost everyone is findable – unlike 15 years ago, when it was easy to lose track of a contact if she moved or got a new job.

Hotels have always been a chief expense when travelling to new cities. Unless you already had a friend in town with a spare bedroom, you could easily spend $1,000 or more per week, putting travel out of the reach of most people. But the rise of sharing economy sites like Airbnb (now in 190 countries), HomeAway and VRBO mean that you can now find a range of much cheaper accommodation, making it easier to have longer stays and more in-depth travel experiences.

Airfare remains another considerable expense for those who aren’t travelling on their company’s dime. But the travelhacking movement provides useful guidance about how to creatively use credit card points and airline miles to generate free flights, enabling independent adventurers like the author Chris Guillebeau to fly nearly a dozen times – first class – to Hong Kong on points alone.

Finally, a key part of becoming a global citizen is language skills, an area in which Americans (I include myself here, despite many years of French lessons) are woefully deficient. In fact, only 18% of Americans say they speak a language other than English, compared to 53% of Europeans. But school courses, expensive boxed sets, or full-scale immersion aren’t the only options anymore. You can practice conversational Greek, French, Mandarin and more with language teachers on paid sites like LiveNinja, use free gamification tools like DuoLingo, or a hybrid free/paid service like LiveMocha, which allows you to connect with native speakers.

There are still major barriers to one’s ability to work and travel as a true global citizen (stingy US corporate vacation policies and the local nature of healthcare coverage are two that immediately spring to mind, not to mention the US Postal Service’s draconian strangling of Outbox, a digital mail pioneer that threatened to disrupt their place-based business model). Global citizenship isn’t here yet, but it’s infinitely closer.

Author: Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches for Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and IE Business School in Madrid. She is the author of Reinventing You and the forthcoming Stand Out.

Image: A visitor places her hands on a “Tangible Earth”, a digital globe which real time global metrological data is fed through the Internet from about 300 places in the world, is displayed at an exhibition pavillion inside the media centre for G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit in Rusustu town, on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido July 6, 2008. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao


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