Becoming A Global Citizen: reflections on the international aspect of the Laidlaw Scholarship

This blog post explores my understanding of what it means to be a global citizen, and the impact this has had on my future as a leader.

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My experience as a Laidlaw Scholar has been a series of lessons in leadership and in what it means to be a truly global citizen. This was helped, in part, by the diverse cultural and international backgrounds of the rest of my cohort; while many are Irish like me, other scholars hail from Serbia, Turkey, and India, to name just a few places. From the outset this invited us to think beyond the Irish setting, and we often challenged and learned from one another in ways we only could as peers. We attended formal sessions on how to navigate cultural differences later on in the programme, which was definitely insightful – but I think my education on this started on our very first day, and I’ve been learning more ever since.

This process of learning continued as I travelled to London for my Leadership in Action project. I will be the first to admit that the environment was not quite as unfamiliar as the ones my fellow scholars found themselves in – London and Dublin are, in many ways, fairly similar. I had also been on Erasmus in Paris almost a year earlier and, after navigating four months of speaking French in the City of Lights, finding myself in an English-speaking country was something of a relief.

But my partner organisation, the English-Speaking Union, has branches across the world and its initiatives aim to bring young people from many different countries together. Over the six weeks, I met so many people from different backgrounds who had been involved in some ESU initiative or another. Some of my colleagues had been sent on the Secondary School Exchange programme, which sends students to spend a year at an American high school after completing their A-levels. Others had taught English as a Foreign Language in loads of other countries. Even the students I taught were from many different backgrounds – I delivered public speaking workshops in a Muslim school in East London, and many of the students on our summer camp had travelled from across Europe to attend. What struck me more than the cultural differences between us all was the love and appreciation for public speaking that we shared, and the importance of being able to speak for oneself regardless of where you’re from. In that way, I felt very aware of where I stood as a global citizen – Irish, but with many things in common with those who are not.

One of the greatest takeaways from this entire experience is my confidence in navigating unfamiliar cultural environments. I still sometimes find myself a little nervous – I don’t want to offend, or disrespect something that I simply don’t understand. But I am far more confident volunteering for opportunities that require me to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, and to view those moments as chances to learn more about the world. Just this week I was elected to the Motions Committee of this year’s World Schools Debating Competition, which invites secondary school students (representing their countries) from across the globe to come together and debate issues of global and cross-cultural importance. This is both an honour and a challenge, and I don’t think I would ever have put myself forward for the opportunity without the experiences I’ve had in the Laidlaw scholarship. In many ways, this also feels like a natural continuation of my LiA project – I continue to find ways to give young people across the world a voice, and the ability to advocate for themselves. I hope to keep doing so for the rest of my life.

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Go to the profile of Princess Agina
3 months ago

It's great to read how your experiences with peers from around the world and your project in London have broadened your perspective. Your election to the Motions Committee is a well-deserved honor and speaks volumes of your leadership and dedication to giving young people a voice. Kudos!