Nearly 16% of all college students will study abroad at some point during their degree program, and through programs like AFS-USA, some high schoolers even have the opportunity to live and study in another country before college. This experience prepares them for life after school by facilitating opportunities to hone their skills, participate in different cultures, and learn how to be a global citizen.

Here’s how studying abroad at any grade level can help you become a global citizen — and how to continue being one once you come home.

What Is a Global Citizen?

A global citizen is someone who sees themself as a citizen of the wider world, not just their home country. This individual is aware of the planet’s interconnectedness and their role within it. More importantly, they take the initiative and become agents of change by inspiring equity, diversity, and sustainability wherever they go.

1. Cultivate Awareness

You likely experienced culture shock while studying abroad and upon returning to the States. In an instant, you may have realized how limited your worldview was and how much you still have to learn. However,  your passion for progress will soon fade if you come home and get lost in your own little world again.

Keep the fire burning by educating yourself. Pay attention to the latest headlines and read the papers. Subscribe to informative, objective media channels and make yourself aware of what is happening around the globe. The more you know, the more you’ll be able to incite change and ally with those who need your support.

2. Volunteer Your Time

Studying abroad teaches global citizenship through internships and classes. However, many students also benefit from engaging in volunteer opportunities abroad. Whether you built a well for an under-resourced community or organized an education clinic for young girls, you graciously lent your time and skills to those who truly needed them.

Continue being a global citizen by taking this same approach at home. Volunteer at a daycare or soup kitchen to serve those in your own community. Tutor young kids, clean up the beach, or foster pups at the local animal shelter. You could even volunteer or become an ambassador for your study abroad program, which can help other students share the same amazing study abroad experience you had.

Seeing first-hand how your efforts are making a difference will encourage you to look for even more volunteer opportunities that may or may not take you abroad again.

3. Practice Sustainability

Humans have a collective responsibility to take care of the Earth and preserve it for future generations. Living sustainably is an excellent way to accomplish this. By reducing, reusing, and recycling, you can make a lasting impact on the world and those who call it home.

Continue being a global citizen by practicing sustainability and encouraging others to do the same. You can even use the skills and knowledge you gained during your study abroad program to raise awareness at your future job. There, you can partner with your peers and employers to make a global impact with sustainable efforts. You could even impact future students by encouraging them to focus on sustainability — for example, some companies offer sustainably-focused scholarships.

4. Learn a New Language

During your study abroad program, you might have gotten lost or confused because you didn’t understand the language. Jokes and idioms might have gone over your head, and you may have struggled to communicate with native speakers. This disconnect makes it difficult to be a global citizen, which is why it’s important to branch out and learn new languages and cultures.

Now that you’re home, you can continue to study the language of your host country and improve your communication skills. Alternatively, you can learn one of the most spoken languages in the world — like Chinese or Spanish — so you can communicate with more people. Of course, obtaining an advanced comprehension level may take years. But even recognizing basic words and phrases can help you better understand peoples and cultures.

5. Keep Traveling — Safely

The best way to continue being a global citizen is to keep traveling. Explore the globe, experience different cultures, and gain insight into countries’ social and economic challenges. Then, come back home and educate others about what’s going on in the rest of the world.

Of course, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic might make traveling difficult to do right now — so it’s important to do extensive research on any destination and be sure to travel safely. Certain countries are allowing vaccinated travelers, while others have strict testing and quarantine restrictions. Make sure you have the required vaccinations, COVID-19 testing and paperwork to be prepared for your trip, or plan something a few years ahead to avoid compromising your health.

Where should you go when the time is right? Consider your passions and reflect on your skillset. What are you good at, what do you enjoy doing, and where is there a need for your expertise? Answering these questions will help you narrow down your options so you can get involved wherever you’d be most effective.

Becoming a Global Leader

As you learn how to be a better global citizen, your eyes will open and you’ll gain a more comprehensive understanding of the world around you. Eventually, you may even become a trusted authority on topics like diversity, equity, sustainability, and education. By increasing your involvement, starting conversations, and investing in your fellow human, you can become a global citizen. More importantly, your efforts can inspire others to do the same.

About the Author

Ginger Abbot is an education writer with a passion for cultural learning and study abroad. Read more of her work on her website, Classrooms.