Photo: UNDP in Europe

As a 16-year-old filmmaker/photographer who has been interested in social justice since the age of 8, my most recent mission had me traveling the last six months in East Africa and Southeast Asia to make a documentary about Global Citizenship and the ways people are overcoming adversity around the world. Travel has been one of the most educational experiences of my life. I’ve learned a great deal about myself and the world, and my experiences have helped me shape a better understanding of what being a global citizen really means. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start becoming one right where you live.

1. You’ll meet inspirational people.

I make it a point to step outside my comfort zone and talk to new people and, while traveling, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Meeting youth in each community has been an eye-opener. For example, I learned from Michaela — a 17 year old orphan from a slum in Cape Town, South Africa — the harsh reality of what some people have to live in. Michaela grew up in a drug-infested, crime-ridden community where teenage pregnancy is the norm. Imagine, at the age of 17, already having 10 friends in your circle with children. Michaela inspired me because she decided she did not want to follow the footsteps of her peers so set her goals on getting a university education. She found herself a mentor and devoted her time and energy to her extracurricular activities as a way to stay focused on her dream.

How you can start at home:

Reach out to local organizations dealing with an issue or topic you find yourself interested in. Get involved and you’re bound to meet people who share the same interests, each with something different to offer. When I was 8 years old I attended a presentation by the founder of an organization called ‘Free the Children’ that focuses on youth empowerment and education issues. This sparked my interest and fueled my desire to get involved with their organization, which eventually led me to discover my passion for photography. My photography has fueled my passion to learn more about the world.

2. You’ll make a cultural connection.

Travelling is a chance to engage and immerse yourself in other cultures by learning about their customs, history, language, food, etc. It’s a bridge for connection. I made it a point to learn at least the basic greetings. People would warm up when they heard me speaking their language or asking questions about their culture with genuine interest. When travelling, I made it a point to experience the local culture and stayed away from western-type attractions. I don’t enjoy going somewhere only to have the things that are available at home. For me, trying new things and making new friends is a big part of why I love to travel.

How you can start at home:

Start by seeking diversity in your own town or city. Before my mom and I ever travelled internationally, we made it a point to be travellers in our own city. We’d do weekly excursions to different neighbourhoods to try new types of food, markets, shopping, festivals, and art shows. Now, even the little bit of Thai that I learned is going a long way back home when ordering in a Thai restaurant. The service is friendlier and we have more things in common now. I tend to crave different experiences now and want to try even more new things. In this case, travelling locally turned us into better international travellers and vice versa.

3. You’ll learn about local issues.

Travel is an incredible way to learn about the more difficult issues of a country and their people firsthand. The mainstream media can only capture so much. For example, Thailand is infamous for its human trafficking record. I had some idea about this before arriving, but not the extent of how it was. I filmed an organization working in northern Thailand that rescues girls being trafficked. I met some as young as 6 years old to 20 years old living in a shelter where they could attend school and learn skills to help them beyond their education. I was informed by the organization about some of the root causes and learned much more than I could have in a textbook or from the news alone.

How you can start at home:

Although the countries I visited had many difficult issues, there’s also plenty of work to be done at home. When I first wanted to learn more about the world and about being a global citizen, I looked around to see what was happening in my own community and how I could help right here. For example, I knew homelessness was a big issue, so I did research on shelters where I could donate some of my clothes & belongings. Later I became a supporter of this shelter by doing local fundraising events for them. In developing countries I saw a lot of homelessness, but at home it makes no sense to me, so now I’m photographing what homeless looks like here. I plan to put on an exhibition in the future to raise awareness and funds for this cause.

4. You’ll keep an open mind.

One of the things that helped me connect with people in my travels, was to try to go completely unfiltered: no pre-conceived ideas about what the country would be like based on what I’d read or heard. This allowed me to understand what the locals would tell me about their own culture, and appreciate it more. Coming from North America, some traditions may seem “weird” but I wanted to respect these things. For example, I spent time in a Maasai village in Tanzania, and the first night I watched them sacrifice a goat and they offered me the raw kidney. Although I am a vegetarian, and the thought of eating a raw kidney made me a very queasy, I made sure that I wasn’t rude in declining their offer because the ceremonial sacrifice is important in their culture. I think it is crucial to understand that others have different customs and to treat them with respect and an open mindset.

How you can start at home:

Having an open mindset is a practice I struggle with sometimes. When people have conflicting views or traditions, it’s easier to close yourself off and stick with your own beliefs. What I try to do whenever this comes up at home or on my travels, is to remind myself of the different conditions in which people are brought up. I believe the only way to make a change is by working together and accepting our differences. One solution does not fit all. We live in a diverse world and we need to learn to appreciate our differences and our similarities.

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