Diversity and Democracy

A Citizen within the Global Community

Being an undergraduate student who is enrolled full time and works part time in New York City is far from easy. In fact, it is downright challenging. When I heard about the Discover the World (DTW) program from a classmate, I was intrigued—but I was reluctant to pursue the opportunity because my schedule provided little relief. I assumed that studying abroad would disrupt my academic advancement and be too expensive for me.

Then a professor cancelled class unexpectedly and I had no idea what to do with the hour and thirty minutes. Suddenly it dawned on me: the study abroad office! Stopping in to speak with an advisor, I found that the program would allow me to study in three different countries while earning fifteen credits that would count toward my major. Best of all, DTW provided grants to each student who earned acceptance, alleviating financial stressors and allowing me to open my mind to the experience.

When I left the study abroad office, I felt a moment of promise, a glimpse of hope that revealed academic and personal rewards. As I walked to catch my bus and considered life outside of my mechanical routine, my steps moved to the rhythms of inspiration.

My enthusiasm was not misplaced. Discover the World’s multifaceted approach to the study abroad experience enhances the chance for global exchange, encouraging interaction with a diverse range of European people, languages, and cultures. As a participant, I learned to respect both the European Union’s pursuit of economic and governmental unity and the particular customs of its members. With its crosscultural framework, DTW prepared me to understand modern global interconnectedness.

DTW also places students in contact with poverty on an international scale. Participants served in soup kitchens in Rome and Paris and orphanages in Spain, where they saw the universality of poverty and its effects on the human condition. As a participant, I realized that one doesn’t need to speak another’s language to help—extending a hand transcends verbal communication. When a man to whom you are giving food laughs at the resemblance between you and his son, you see that a father is a father, a child is a child, and the disadvantaged are the disadvantaged. You realize that poverty is not localized but exists throughout the global community.

When I returned to the United States, I started an internship in Washington, D.C., and immersed myself in the constant buzz of U.S. politics. I soon found that decisions made in Washington served one particular set of interests. Nevertheless, I realized that self-interest was not specific to America, but existed in the countries where I had studied as well. When I disagreed with international policy decisions, I questioned my loyalty, uncertain that I was truly devoted to my country. Then I remembered a passage I had read while in Europe: “En renonçant a mes attachements a une tache simple, je les ai prolonger a la terre entière, et alors, que je cessais d’être un citoyen suis devenus vraiment un homme.”

Rousseau’s words sparked a flood of flashbacks. I recounted how I had “renounced all of my attachments to one narrow spot” and developed a perspective that isn’t unilateral in thought, but globally sound. Just as I had many months ago, I walked to catch my bus to go home, realizing that my hour and a half in the study abroad office had been the precursor to my discovery of my place within the world.

The DTW program has been the highlight of my undergraduate career. As I approach graduation, I feel confident about entering the real world because my new perspective has changed my place in it. To paraphrase Rousseau, I am no longer a citizen of one country alone, but a true citizen within the global community. 

Travis Feldler is a senior majoring in government and politics at St. John’s University.

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