Being a Global Citizen Without Leaving Home

Row of globes, vintage suitcases, and Eiffel Tower
We tend to think of international exchange as involving international travel; however, there are many ways that we can engage with the world from home.

It may not necessarily take a global pandemic to make travel impossible or infeasible for some of us. Let's face it. Sometimes finances, work, family, homework or health concerns can make traveling difficult. Yet you don't need to travel to experience the world. Try putting into practice these tips for staying globally engaged from home.

Read books

Whether you want to enhance your language skills, or to learn more about the country's culture, literature can be a great way to dig in. Countries have their own national authors, and you can often find their books translated to English or available in the national language.

I have downloaded literature from Uruguay, Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, Peru and Spain from Amazon. As someone with a print disability, I can also access literature on book share. The stories of authors from Spanish-speaking countries, which grapple with the ways that Colombian society reconciled itself with memory of life under the drug cartels in the 1980s, or which ask what an aspiring female journalist would have to do to achieve her dream in 1920s Madrid, have enabled me to access a deeper understanding of what makes those people tick.


Have you ever wondered if the director of the latest Hollywood film pilfered the script out of an old filing cabinet in Harrison Ford’s mansion? It's possible to get a completely different experience by viewing movies from overseas, far away from the Hollywood archives. It seems like folks in the U.S. are beginning to realize this. Parasite, the 2019 South Korean dark thriller, became the first non-English film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

Of course movies are not the only way that you can stay engaged with another country's culture. Telenovelas, podcasts, radio and music are all excellent shortcuts to go abroad. You can hear discussions of contemporary issues, learn about local customs, and do all of it while improving your understanding of a foreign language.

Ever since I was an intermediate Spanish student muddling my way through the third semester, I enjoyed watching movies in Spanish. Since I couldn't see subtitles, I didn't need to use them. Watching those old films today is a fun and motivating reminder of how far I have come as a student of Spanish.

Keep in contact with friends.

I met my Mexican friend when I studied Spanish in 2008. I have visited his family about 5 times, and between those visits we have kept talking to each other over the phone. We keep each other up-to-date on what is going on in our lives and in our countries, and he reminds me when I forget to practice my Spanish.

One of the best things about international exchange is meeting people, so why not keep in touch? Your friends from your former host country can help keep you up-to-date with what is going on. Trading notes on world news will give both of you the more nuanced perspective that comes from international exchange. They can also help you practice your language skills.

If you haven’t had the chance to meet people abroad yet, you still have options. ICQ and MyLanguageExchange are two online platforms that allow you to chat with both old friends and new people from other countries. Learn a new language, help someone learn yours, share recipes, talk about the news or just get to know each other.

Virtual international exchange

In response to the Covid 19 epidemic, some programs are beginning to offer options to do virtual internships or language exchanges. That means you can still experience another country's work culture, and collaborate with a team of international colleagues. You can also take a language class from the comfort of your home, both benefiting from the option to choose when you go to lecture, and the motivation that comes from studying with a group.

Explore your virtual options


Justin Harford