Becoming a Global Citizen
If you’re looking for a career that will take you beyond the edges of the map, then being a global citizen is for you
I bet that you remember the exact moment it happened. Maybe it was a book you read, or a movie you saw. A piece of food; a piece of music; a piece of art. Looking forward to fifth-period Spanish class. Having a secret (or not-so-secret) crush on your school’s foreign exchange student. However it happened, whenever it happened, you knew — you absolutely knew. There’s a big world out there: fascinating, diverse and just waiting for you to go out and explore it. You might not have known, at that exact moment, what that would mean in practice, but you were certain that your life would never be the same again. Maybe you just pointed to ta globe sitting and said “There. That’s where I’m going to work.” Or maybe you had absolutely no idea what to do with your interest other than to nurture it and watch it grow.
If you ask my friend Todd Robinson, he’ll tell you his own version of that story. As he puts it, “I always dreamed of travel and far-away places as a child. Some of my earliest memories are of wanting to visit places that I had read about in my books, and to learn the different languages. Other kids wanted to drive fire trucks, or arrest the bad guys. I wanted to be an interpreter at the UN.” Today, his business card reads “US Ambassador to the Republic of Guatemala”.
If it wasn’t the glittering promise of world travel, maybe it was the grim reality of a very real social injustice that, one day, came crashing into your field of vision. My friend Victoria will tell you that her moment came on a trip she took as a 12-year old with her family to South Africa, during Apartheid. As she recalls: “Having grown up in California, I couldn’t understand why people were treated differently, and brutally, just because of the color of their skin.” Janell Wright, on the other hand, describes her college summer job in rural Honduras as her “wake up call”. It was meant to give her some “real world” experience in a hospital environment before she went off to med school — but she never anticipated just how eye-opening it would be. “I saw field laborers come to our hospital with fertilizer poisoning because they weren’t being provided with masks and gloves. Being poisoned kept them away from work for days, or even weeks — and that meant they wouldn’t be earning enough to feed their families. That’s the moment I discovered my passion for preventative medicine: teaching vulnerable people how to take steps to ensure that they, and their families, didn’t fall prey to avoidable illnesses.”
For me, the “ah-hah moment” was while I was doing a sixth-grade book report on the Amazon rainforest. I grew up in Oregon, which is stuffed full of the most beautiful mountains, forests and rivers. That book report brought me face to face with the idea that there were actually people out there destroying an environment, just like the one out my window, the one I loved so much. And not only that, but people out there were suffering as a result of this — losing their homes, losing their livelihoods. Two questions kept circling around my mind: why is this happening? And what can I do to help?
None of us realized, at the time, that what we were really doing was laying the foundations of a life focused on global social and environmental justice. And yet here we all are today. Victoria works as the Head of the Danish Refugee Council in Turkey, Janell is a Public Health Specialist in Kazakhstan, and I’m the Director for Sustainable Development at USAID Armenia. We do interesting, challenging work — all in the name of making the world a better place for everyone that lists “Planet Earth” as their home address.
If you’re anything like I was, you’re looking for a way, any way, to get involved on a global scale. Now, more than ever, we need dedicated and talented people rolling up their sleeves to tackle some of the biggest challenges of our age. And if you like challenges — you’re spoilt for choice. Global poverty, growing income inequality, civil war, displaced populations, gender inequality, nuclear proliferation, infectious diseases, human trafficking, infant mortality, environmental degradation, sectarian violence, ethnic wars, land grabs, intergenerational trauma, natural disasters... the list is far longer than it has to be.
These issues may seem overwhelming, but don’t be discouraged. The good news is that there is progress – immunization rates are up, literacy is up, absolute poverty is falling. Change is slow, but happening. Helping this is that the list of organizations whose mission it is to put these problems in a museum is also huge. Local organizations, regional organizations; national, multi-national, global organizations. Collectively, they employ the best talent across a huge range of disciplines — from accountants to zoologists, and everyone in between. Somewhere out there, your perfect job is waiting for you. You might already have an inkling that the landscape of international affairs is varied and complex — but you’re about to find out that the landscape of global players (read here: potential employers) is just as varied and complex.
Here’s my goal. Whatever your starting point, whatever your interest in global affairs, — I want to help you turn your passion into a career. Figuring out where to start, and what your options are, can be daunting. Trust me. I know. But there’s an old proverb that says: “to know the road ahead, ask those coming back”. I want to share the wit and wisdom of those who know that road like the back of their hand. You’re never too young (or too old!) to start down that road, and believe me it will twist and turn in ways you’d never expect. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. You’re in for the ride of your life.
Whether you want to work in diplomacy, defense or humanitarian relief and international development – or even if you have no idea where you want to focus your talents – a solid foundation in the key issues, systems and players in international affairs will be your best friend.
Why? Because I’m an ordinary person doing extraordinary work and I want to model that as an achievable career goal. I’ve been doing this gig for nearly 20 years, and in that time I’ve had adventures all over the world. I’ve been to Timbuktu, Zanzibar and Quetzaltenango. I’ve travelled by helicopter, boat and tuk-tuk. I’ve seen the Monkey King dance, climbed a Mayan temple and summited a volcano. I’ve been to northern Nigeria where judges enact Sharia law, and to the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo where there is an active rebellion. I’ve met with Government Ministers, Foreign Ambassadors and Assistant Secretaries. And I’ve visited with school children, women’s microfinance collectives and victims of human trafficking. You too can join the ranks of global heroes, and it’s not as difficult as it might seem. But more than that, it’s an awesome career choice to make. If you’re looking for a career that will take you beyond the edges of the map, then being a global citizen is for you.
An excerpt from Global: An Extraordinary Guide for Ordinary Heroes by Lyla Bashan. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not reflect the position of the US Government. Likewise all quoted passages herein based on interviews of US Government employees should be read as their own opinion and not the official position of the US Government.Lyla Bashan serves in the diplomatic corps for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and is the author of Global: An Extraordinary Guide for Ordinary Heroes. Over the course of her nearly two decade career in international affairs she has crisscrossed the globe. Working for USAID, the Department of State, and non-governmental organizations, she has committed her career to being an ordinary hero and strives to help others to do so too.