young people walking in Berlin

A Global Citizen State of Mind

Climate change, immigration, health care, poverty and racial discrimination are just some of the issues whose solutions require a broader, global understanding. Tulane political science professors and recent graduates grapple with what it means to be an educated citizen of the world. We asked a few to share their insights.

Above photo: A youthful crowd walks on a  covered bridge in Berlin, Germany, where many Tulane students study abroad. (Photo by Voros Gergely, Eyeem Photography)

Passion for Health Care
“I’m passionate for health care and healthcare policies,” said Kennis Htet.

Htet is an international student from Myanmar who graduated this May from the School of Liberal Arts with a BA as a political science/international relations major. Through the Creative Scholars program, he’s on his way to Tulane medical school this fall, having completed all the pre-med requirements by the end of his sophomore year.

“My country is a developing country. Political science would call it a ‘Third World’ country. It doesn’t have the best resources or best governance. For me, as a citizen of a country that is deeply entrenched in corruption, it brings a sense of awareness that we shouldn’t take for granted, for example, a Tulane education. And we shouldn’t take health care for granted.”

“One of my biggest goals in life is to go help and mitigate the Burmese health crisis because, honestly, we have one of the worst healthcare systems in the world.”

KENNIS HTET, SLA ’19, current Tulane medical school student

Htet said that his experiences as a citizen of Myanmar, “where health care is nonexistent,” is a unique perspective that he brings to the table.

“Health care is not just about medicine,” said Htet. “There is a political aspect, an economic aspect.”

Htet wants to combine his knowledge of political science and medicine — and also his creative side (he’s a painter and ceramist) to help his home country. 

After he graduates from medical school, Htet said, “One of my biggest goals in life is to go help and mitigate the Burmese health crisis because, honestly, we have one of the worst healthcare systems in the world.”

As far as his experience coming to Tulane as an international student, Htet said, “Globalism means bringing in culture from my background here and then educating myself with a new culture and new experiences and then merging them together.”

Homecoming 2018
Kennis Htet, second from right, participates in the 2018 Tulane Homecoming court wearing traditional Myanmar clothing. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)

Do It Now
Ashley Brown Burns, assistant professor of political science, said she definitely tries to stretch her students to think about other perspectives. “What’s the counter argument?” she asks in her classes on Race and American Politics, Public Policy, and Politics of Poverty Policy.

To appreciate other points of view, students have to know who they are and what they stand for, she said.

She’s preparing her students to be global citizens. “You can’t really understand the world, if you don’t understand yourself and your place in it.”

“They don’t have to wait until they ‘get older.’ Do it now. Do it as soon as you can.”

ASHLEY BROWN BURNS, assistant professor of political science

The world is so different for today’s 19-to-20-year-old students than it was for their parents. “Everything about it,” said Burns. “How we live, how we communicate, what information we have access to, how we share knowledge.”

Ashley Brown Burns
Ashley Brown Burns, assistant professor of political science

Students are in an exploration phase, finding their identities. She wants them to understand how valuable they can be to our whole society. Burns said, “How do we get our students to see themselves as a solution bringer? It’s not being a global citizen when you’re sitting somewhere with problems, and you’re a smart, resourceful person and you don’t help. I don’t want them to think they can’t make an impact. You can have a ‘good’ job that promotes social good. 

“What I want them to understand about global citizenship: They don’t have to wait until they ‘get older.’ Do it now. Do it as soon as you can."

Altman Scholars in Thailand
Altman Scholars trek through Om Koi province in Thailand during a weekend service trip this summer. The students were based in Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand, for their first experience abroad as part of the Altman program. (Photo courtesy Mike Yest)

Intercultural Competence
Casey Love, senior professor of practice of political science, agrees with Burns that global citizenship can “entail a sense of identity and a sense of place in the world.” (Love is a 1997 Newcomb College graduate and earned her PhD from Tulane in 2005.)

Love co-directs the Jeffrey A. Altman Program in International Studies and Business. In this program, intercultural competence is among its goals. Altman Scholars earn bachelor’s degrees from both the School of Liberal Arts and the A. B. Freeman School of Business. 

They travel to Southeast Asia (this year they went to Thailand) for a summer program after their first year at Tulane to immerse themselves in another country’s culture. During their freshman, sophomore and senior years, Altman Scholars take classes at the Tulane campus in New Orleans.

Their entire junior year is spent enrolled at universities abroad. They are required to take the majority of their coursework in the language of the host country. 

Students learn to develop verbal and nonverbal communication skills. For example, in Thailand, they begin to understand cues related to “saving face” and adjust their behavior accordingly. In a TIDES (Tulane Interdisciplinary Experience Seminar) during the freshman year, the focus is on New Orleans as a microcosm of the world with its intercultural, interracial and interethnic differences. “There’s a lot about how to avoid being an ‘ugly American,’” said Love.

“One part of global citizenship is not just identifying with the local, the provincial or the national group, but also with a more global society of human beings.”

CASEY LOVE, senior professor of practice of political science

Students are encouraged to think about their privilege as carriers of American passports, which “basically grants us entry into any country anywhere, which is a right not shared by the vast majority of humans.”

“I think most American citizens identify closely with our country,” said Love, “but I also think that one part of global citizenship is not just identifying with the local, the provincial or the national group, but also with a more global society of human beings.”

“You can work towards being a version of a global citizen right here in New Orleans.”

MALCOLM GRBA, B ’19, SLA ’19, current Fulbright scholar in Mexico

Passports at the Ready
Altman Scholars David Woodside and Malcolm Grba, who both graduated in May, are keeping their passports handy.

Woodside has joined the Peace Corps and is on his way to Ukraine to work in business development with small business owners, local governments or nongovernmental organizations. Grba has been awarded a Fulbright Binational Internship and is moving to Mexico City for a year.

Something Woodside has learned through his studies and travels with the Altman program (besides a fluent command of French) is that “people are pro people.” Woodside studied in Vietnam, Morocco and France.

“People like to know other people,” he said. “If you’re friendly to them, they’re going to be friendly to you. People want to help, especially showing their own culture. People want to put on a good face and represent themselves well.”

Grba said that being a global citizen means “trying to be as cognizant as possible that our kind of logic, our way of doing things is not the only way. There is so much wisdom around the world, within our country, outside of it, within different families, communities, etc., that we can’t learn about ourselves, at least in any holistic form, until we learn other ways of seeing the world.”

Ever since he came back to the Tulane campus after his junior year studying in Bogotá, Colombia, “I’ve tried to focus on making sure that we’re as welcoming and excited about our international students as possible,” said Grba.

“You can work towards being a version of a global citizen right here,” he said, of the international city of New Orleans.

Voting Optional but a Good Idea
“For many Americans, the idea of being an educated global citizen doesn’t mean very much,” said Brian Brox, associate professor of political science, who studies American politics. “It’s hard enough for many Americans to be an even somewhat educated or engaged American citizen. 

 “For Americans to try to understand everything they need to know just to get through domestic politics, but then to expand that into understanding where America fits into the global picture — that’s a tall order.”

Brian Brox
Brian Brox studies American politics where the goal of society is to make engaging in the political process “as reasonably free as possible, while still allowing for individual freedom of conscience and individual freedom of expression.”

American citizens have many freedoms, liberties and rights. Among these rights is the right to vote. Engaging in the political process, “whether it’s voting, donating to campaigns, volunteering or even running for office, we need people to be relatively free to do these kinds of things,” said Brox. “But it can’t be forced. The goal of society is to make these things as reasonably free as possible, while still allowing for individual freedom of conscience and individual freedom of expression, including the ability not to do these things.”

Brox sees his role as a scholar and the role of the political science students that he’s training as proponents of the ideals that “we need to talk to Americans about: You are not forced to do this. But it might be a good idea. Here are the tools and pieces of information you need to be a good citizen and to have an impact when you feel like you need to have an impact.” 

He trains his students to be advocates for expanding access, freedom of participation and information and letting the broader public know that “there’s lots of ways to get engaged. There’s lots of ways to be influential. It’s more than just showing up every four years to vote in a presidential election.

“Tulane students want to get out there and change the world in a lot of different areas. I see a lot of idealism and engagement — just the anticipation of getting this degree, so they can go out and do something with it.”

Golden Age of Peace and Security
Chris Fettweis, associate professor of political science, said, “We try to encourage all our students to travel because it’s such a life-expanding experience.

“You learn more about your own culture because you go over there and you figure out what you thought was normal, it’s not normal for other people.

“You can look back on what is unique or troubling or all of the above about your own culture. And you can learn the fundamental similarities that people have.

“Being a citizen of the world, you can do a lot of different ways. For example, you can be fired up by the environmental issues.”

“You learn more about your own culture because you go over there and you figure out what you thought was normal, it’s not normal for other people.”

CHRIS FETTWEIS, associate professor of political science

The good news is that the world is a lot more peaceful than it ever has been. “We’re actually living in a golden age of peace and security,” said Fettweis, “so it’s a great time to travel abroad.”

Fettweis studies and teaches power and strategy and theories of how the world works.

He said, “Power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely.

“Sometimes it’s hard to be a powerful and wise country at the same time. Power has psychological impacts on the United States — and on other countries.” 

Fettweis said the United States is not compelled to cooperate with others because “we don’t have to have the same kind of concerns.”

Power also can be a block to empathy.

“There’s an old saying that power is the ability not to have to cooperate.”

Brandenburg Gates
The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin is an 18th-century neoclassical monument built on the orders of the Prussian king Frederick William II after the successful restoration of order during the early Batavian Revolution. It has served as a symbol of both the division of Germany and the country’s reunification and is one of Berlin’s most visited landmarks. When Germany was reunified following the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the Brandenburg Gate quickly reinvented itself into the symbol of unity for the new Berlin.

An Interconnected World Within Limits
Martin Dimitrov, associate professor of political science, teaches about and studies the powerful country of China. He’s investigated intellectual property rights in China (where that country has made progress in enforcement of intellectual property rights in the last 20 to 30 years, he said.)

He’s also studying the resilience of authoritarian regimes. “There are remarkable aspects of China’s reform experience over the last four decades,” he said. “Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty; standards of living have improved. We can’t deny that.” But freedom of expression and individual autonomy are repressed in China. 

Dimitrov grew up in Bulgaria, behind the Iron Curtain. “The world did not feel all that global. The world was divided.

“Then when the Berlin Wall fell [in 1989], all sorts of things changed.”

He came to the United States as an international student to study French at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1994. 
As someone who grew up under communism in Eastern Europe, Dimitrov is certain of the intrinsic value of democracy.

“One of the debates in political science now is, can you have good governance without democracy?”

MARTIN DIMITROV, associate professor of political science

The world is much more interconnected now. But, “the movement of capital and information has advanced at a much greater pace than the movement of people.” Citizenship in individual countries, along with anxieties about immigration, hinders people from moving about as freely as ideas or money.

Students need to be aware of the world beyond the United States, Dimitrov said. For example, what is the difference between a democratically elected government versus one that is not democratic? 

“One of the debates in political science now is, can you have good governance without democracy?” Authoritarian regimes may appear to govern well and efficiently while democracy is often messy.

But, “I tend to think that democracy is the best political system we have,” 
said Dimitrov.

Democracy and Capitalism
“Global citizenship is more, I think, a state of mind,” said Mark Vail, professor of political science. “It’s an acknowledgment that interactions with and relations among different countries and different cultures are achievable, are important. And require work.”

In his book Liberalism in Illiberal States, Vail writes about the Western European countries Germany, France and Italy. 

“The book is, on some basic level, about the metaphor of global citizenship and how it reflects and is built on a sense of economic freedom and its relationship to political engagement. And how that varies from country to country,” he said.

The lessons of the book are that there are lots of ways of creating capitalism — as many ways as there are countries. “Global citizenship,” said Vail, “is about acknowledging the limitations of our own model as much as it is celebrating its virtues.”

“Citizenship is, in my mind, not a passive thing.... It’s a matter of sustained engagement with the political order.”

MARK VAIL, professor of political science

Being an educated citizen of the world “involves not taking the status quo for granted and not assuming that democracy is a self-sustaining system.” 

Two things Vail cautions against: “One, is assuming the status quo is stable. Two, that capitalism and democracy are consistent with each other.”

Capitalism and democracy are “at best, uneasy partners,” said Vail.

Part of being an engaged citizen “is taking individual and joint responsibility for one’s country and one’s world’s political fortunes.”

Mark Vail
Mark Vail, professor of political science

“Citizenship is, in my mind, not a passive thing. It’s not merely a matter of living in a country and paying taxes. It’s a matter of sustained engagement with the political order.

“It’s about being committed to sustaining political, economic and social institutions that are constitutive of and consistent with human freedom.”

Being a citizen of the world “requires that we adopt a position of humility,” said Vail. “And that we understand that there are lots of different ways of living together. Politics is about figuring out ways to live together collectively. ”

Meeting the World
Every day, Tulane students are on the path to discover how to become active and engaged citizens. They meet the world.