In an increasingly globalised world, can people in your country claim to be global citizens?

In this day and age, the entire world has transformed into a global village, seemingly becoming smaller as advancements in technology, such as the embracement of Web 2.0 and the many innovations from Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conferences, all bring us closer to one another. As demand for cheaper connectivity soars due to the currently exorbitant prices of oil, which have hit US$120 a barrel leading to more expensive air travel, the people that connect us like Skype have engineered feats such as low-cost video-conferencing. And as many more examples of connectivity may be rattled off, we can thus see that globalisation is indeed reaching its peak as its sphere of influence spreads due to technological advancement. However, the impact of this phenomenon is quite human-centred. With globalisation, people all over the world imbibe and partake in a cultural experience contributed by the many diverse groups of people on this planet, and it is thus the extent to which we have been affected by this cultural experience that determines our global-mindedness. As such, in the context of Singapore, though it may be obvious that we are globally connected, it remains to be seen whether we have truly been shaped by this global cultural experience as a society.

With the increasing connectivity, Singaporeans are exposed to many media platforms that transmit information about global issues, such as television, radio, the Internet, newspapers and magazines. This has allowed many here to be more globally aware, and to keep in touch with current affairs around the world which may or may not affect us. Nonetheless, this phenomenon has since removed us from the close-mindedness that many societies face, especially in developing countries. The Democrats’ nomination campaigns for their potential presidential candidates, for example, have been closely followed by many Singaporeans, due in part to wide coverage in news media. This has resulted in Singaporeans even being able to be part of this electoral process, endorsing candidates of their own whether it being the frontrunners Obama or Clinton, and experiencing a part of the political process that many young Singaporeans have never experienced before. The outpouring of compassion as seen by the many generous private donations to aid disaster victims of the Sichuan earthquake or Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar is also testament to the nation’s civic- mindedness in the global arena. Such is the extent of globalisation that has allowed our people to be aware of various global events, and even partake of this experiences that these provide.

On a lighter note, many in Singapore have also been part of a different global cultural experience. With connectivity, knowledge of consumer culture has also descended upon our shores, seen by the many savvy consumers who are very in touch with fashion trends and imported waves. So strong is this fascination that many world-renowned retail outlets have set up flagship stores here, as seen in the clothing label Gap having set up one here as well as luxury goods retailer Louis Vuitton. While these may seem superficial and possibly scoffed at by detractors who will argue that this has nothing to do with globalisation, it has to be noted that many anthropologists and sociologists deem consumer culture as perhaps one of the largest determinants of the extent of globalisation, given that the desire to possess and own something is very human in nature. Hence, surprisingly, it is our voracious shopping culture, which especially takes a shine to our imported goods, that has increased our “global quotient”, and perhaps may qualify us to be at least semblances of a global citizen.

One also begins to realise how cosmopolitan and global we really are as a country. Besides consumer culture that has been assumed into our very own, our local community carries many international flavours too. Many expatriates have increasingly flocked to our shores naming safety, cleanliness, stability and the largely global culture here as the main draws, persuading many multi-national corporations to set up regional headquarters here. This may be seen by the burgeoning educational institutions here such as the Tanglin Trust and the Australian International School, that have begun to hunt for local opportunities, and the Global Indian International School campuses. Even local schools have become quasi-international schools, such as MacPherson Primary School which boasts many nationalities studying there, as more expatriates bring their families over. It is perhaps these growing communities of foreigners in Singapore that have contributed to the global mind-set that we possess today, as we begin to shake off our colonial past and become more accepting of other cultures, and even religions. Perhaps, government policy like that of the promotion of facial and religious harmony and the gracious acceptance of foreign talent into our shores has helped us to become people with cosmopolitan mind-sets.

Yet, one also begins to question the authenticity of our supposed global-mindedness, and whether this qualifies us to be fully-fledged global citizens. Even as we embrace opportunities to go for overseas study stints to engage in international experiences, these may be misinterpreted by others to be a fixation with a global education to boost one’s career opportunities. Therefore, anger over foreign talent “stealing jobs” has also been an issue, though it has subsided considerably over the last year. Nonetheless, it is sign of unhappiness at the phenomenon that is labelled inevitable: globalisation. Is Singapore truly global-minded, when we have been labelled “ugly” Singaporeans due to our lack of social graces when travelling abroad? And are we truly embracing global culture, when we celebrate music icons from all over the world, and yet many of us are full of disdain for the future that is attached to the entertainment, like deviant sexual orientation? While one cannot fully embrace all of these and transform into an entity that fully lives and breathes global culture and forget one’s own local identity, Singapore still has some way to go before it may be labelled a country of global citizens. We have succeeded on many fronts in trying to re-orientate our citizens as global citizens, with the many initiatives to inject international flavours such as the upcoming Formula One night race this September and the successful bid for the Youth Olympic Games 2010, to create a more vibrant nightlife and revive the spirit of sport within the community and especially of youth, respectively. Nonetheless, there are many traits that will, for a long time, define us as Singaporeans, such as the “kiasu” mentality of the fear of losing and the general pragmatism of the local population and of global citizens.

Hence, while we may not be able to claim the full mantle of values and traits a global citizen embodies, we cam say that we have at least imbibed a little of the global cultural experience to at least survive in this increasingly globalised world. That said, it is definite that while being a part of global citizens is essentially positive, to be a global citizen and lose touch with one’s local or indigenous cultural identity is an immense loss. It would be a pure shame for one to be able to identify so well with global culture and yet not belong to a certain community. There is no true global community, for the record, as each individual has his or her own cultural baggage that will indirectly influence whatever global identity he or she assumes. As such, while people in my country may not be true global citizens who assume an entirely global identity, we can at least say that we have taken part in what is labelled the global cultural experience, and that, I believe, is all we will ever need.