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Being Local: An important aspect of global citizenship

By Maitreyi Kulkarni, Bachelor of Media and Communications

I never imagined that while reflecting on my activities and experiences with the Global Leadership Program, one of my biggest takeaways would be the power of being local. After all, global is right there in its name. Yet, that is exactly what I have discovered in the three years of my degree.

When I signed up for the program in my first year of university, I was certain that I would be participating in many large-scale activities with a strong focus on all things international. With a love for Model United Nations and international relations, I assumed I knew what to expect when it came to the GLP and global citizenship.

Global citizenship is more nuanced than I’d imagined.

In my first year, I completed a POIR1010: Australian Politics in Global Context unit. The unit encouraged me to start thinking about global issues from a personal lens. It positioned local and national issues as part of a broader global context. Around the same time, I started volunteering for a youth-led organisation, United Nations Youth Australia, which helped me put this into action. UN Youth aims to educate and empower young people on global issues. I found that acting on global issues, and contributing towards large-scale change, often starts with something much smaller – perhaps a one-day workshop for high school students, or a competition encouraging them to understand bilateral negotiations, or regional outreach programs focusing on teaching students what they believe is important in their local communities.

This is what I’ve realized global citizenship is also about: the local.

One of the core GLP colloquium, Beyond Borders: The responsibilities of a global citizen (GLC03), helped me unpack the meaning of global citizenship, and what this means for our actions and behaviours. The session gave us a definition that really resonated with me:

A global citizen is someone who is aware of and understands the wider world - and their place in it. They take an active role in their community, and work with others to make our planet more equal, fair and sustainable.” – Oxfam

Thinking about this definition, I realised that so much of what I have been participating in as part of my GLP, work and studies has been informed by community. Having an understanding of the wider world around us does undeniably require us to think global and consider international contexts. But understanding our place in this world is where it gets trickier. Every time I think about what action I want to take, or the change I want to make, I find myself a little overwhelmed by how vast the world is. But that’s what I’ve discovered is the beauty of acting local.

It has helped me understand that our world is equally about the people surrounding us – our local community. This year, I have been lucky enough to participate in a PACE unit, MOLS3002: Engaging the Community in Science, which gave me the opportunity to participate in some amazing activities within my community. I got to lead workshops in regional schools for K-12 students, demonstrate science activities at community events such as MQ Open Day, and mentor high school student leaders as part of the National Indigenous Science Experience Program. I discovered the importance of science outreach and community engagement, particularly for Indigenous, rural or refugee communities, and became more aware of how global 21st Century challenges affect us in local contexts. I’ve found that grassroots communications and outreach can help tackle global issues.

Sometimes inspiring change regarding topics such as sustainability is about starting small – for example, raising awareness and inspiring conversations about renewable energy with fun science activities. All of a sudden, the vast wider world didn’t seem as overwhelming.

It’s also about the physical space we inhabit – for me that means connecting to natural places. I’ve spent time this year learning more about native plants and their customary uses in Indigenous cultures. We have a beautiful bush tucker garden on Macquarie University’s Wallumattagal campus, and I’ve loved exploring it in between classes to discover more about the medicinal and food uses of native plants. My personal favourites? The lovely lemon-scented tea-tree and finger limes. Connecting to nature and learning about Indigenous knowledge and cultures is an important reminder of Australia’s 60,000+ years of culture and history, and of how we can learn from the Traditional custodians of this land when it comes to caring for nature. Staying connected to nature also inspires me and reminds me of why I care about climate action and sustainability. It helps me remember the value of taking action in your local spaces – something we talked about in the colloquia, Solving the Climate Crisis One Place at a Time (GL E006).

I’ve had the privilege of gaining countless wonderful experiences like these over the past three years of my degree and the GLP. They’ve helped me discover just how layered global leadership is, and how important it is to take grassroots actions, and get involved in your local community as a global citizen.


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