by Daniel Obst, President & CEO, AFS Intercultural Programs

The coronavirus has changed everyday life for everyone. This moment of slowing down, spending so much time at home, rationing supplies or carefully planning your next trip to a grocery store, has made me reflect a lot about the tremendous responsibility we hold for the world and our community. Do I really need to consume the way I used to? Is all this travel really necessary? What can I do to protect or help the most vulnerable members of my community? I must say, I’m surprised at how I myself am responding and adapting to this new normal. 

As the leader of an international education organization, I have also been reflecting on our purpose and mission. While international travel is not possible right now and may be limited for some time to come, how do we continue to fulfill our mission? 

Educating more young people to become global citizens is crucial in times like these, and it matters for the future of humanity. In his latest book, Harvard professor Fernando M. Reimers makes a perfect case for reforming education systems so that all students are educated to be global citizens, with both the local and global competencies that are so urgently needed. 

There are three traits that all global citizens have. Helping young people build these traits strikes me as more important now than ever before:   

FOCUSING ON “WE” INSTEAD OF “ME”

We all have a responsibility toward each other and to our community. Global citizens will use their empathy in the most effective way to understand and support their local community and the world. They know it’s no longer about “me” and that we all must work together on strengthening our common “we.”

EMBRACING DIFFERENCE

There is a whole lot more that connects us rather than divides us. Global citizens know how to make use of our different strengths and work together constructively, no matter what our cultural or other backgrounds are.

FLEXIBILITY

This pandemic is bringing so much uncertainty into our daily lives and future prospects. Global citizens have the flexibility that is needed to consider complex issues from multiple perspectives, assess ambiguities and take action to benefit our communities.  

Times of crisis are also opportunities for change. Our opportunity to educate a new generation of global citizens is now.