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  • eli

citizens of the world



Hi everybody, this is Eli.



Have you ever studied abroad?

I’ve only studied abroad in Japan, so I can’t really say anything about the other countries, but when you come as a foreign student here you get labelled as an “exchange student” and your foreignness kind of becomes your label. This doesn’t only happen when talking with Japanese people, but also with other foreigners.


Both when talking with Japanese people and fellow exchange students, you often end up talking about the differences between your country and their/other countries. Often the people you talk with will have certain expectations of you because you come from a certain country – to me this is kinda close to stereotypes. For example, since I come to Italy people come talk to me about Italian food – even though I don’t know much about it since I was raised on frozen food.


To me this happens because we understand the world through the category of “nationality”. We are born in our country, are educated in our country, and live our everyday life amidst the institutions of our country. We spend time with people that have followed a similar path in this same place we call “country”, and through these interactions we develop a sense of belonging to a certain culture.


In order for “our (country’s) culture” to continue existing, we need to compare it to a precisely defined “other (country’s) culture”. Let’s try imagining that clothes similar to kimono existed in Finland as well. The “kimono” would not be recognized as a peculiar symbol of Japanese culture. We look for something that can be characteristic of “our country” and create “our culture”, and we use it as a base for our identity. Italians speak of how delicious pizza is, and Japanese people talk of the beauty of the four seasons.



Each one of us is different from the others, and it’s generally a good thing to think that we all carry within ourselves a different culture. Especially if you think on a really big scale, difference makes the world more rich. I think nobody wants all the people who live on earth to share a single, unified culture!

However, “nations” could be taken as being a pretty big yardstick as well. This is easy to understand if you think of a country from the perspective of the minority groups who live in it. In every country you have some groups that are in some way different from “the imagined citizen”, and putting too much of an emphasis on one’s national culture is bound to exclude these people. I’m sure there are a lot of Italians who, like me, don’t really like pizza lol


There is another reason to go beyond the category of “nation” – globalization. We’re now connected more than we ever were. I grew up watching Japanese cartoons on television every morning and reading the English fantasy novel “Harry Potter”. When I went out with my friends in my university days, we used to eat Middle Eastern food a lot.


Globalization doesn’t always come with good things. Some of the biggest problems we’re facing right now are global – one easily recognizable example is global warming. Even when dealing with questions that don’t physically affect the planet we’re living in, it is increasingly common to try and find answers that go beyond a specific nation. For example, female poverty is widely regarded as a global phenomenon, and women are considered to be at a bigger risk of financial hardship than average in almost every country. This is a problem that can hardly be solved if we keep looking at the world as made up of many separated nations.


Dividing the world in nations and creating national cultures leads to the systematic discrimination of minorities, and it’s not sufficient to solve some very pressing matters. However, completely abandoning “our (country’s) culture” and striving for the universal culture that the Illuminists dreamed of is also a form of domination. What are we supposed to do then?


Maybe something would change if we started considering people as being at the same time individuals, citizens of a nation and people who live in this world. We humans are complex beings and these three characteristics intersect inside ourselves in many different ways. We use different notions originating from our immediate surroundings, from our “national” culture and from the “global culture” that is increasingly emerging through social media in many different ways, combining them as building blocks that eventually form who we are – unique but in some way similar, interconnected citizens of the world.

Images by Eli

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