Are some places more global than others?

Testing, testing…  Hi there.  I’m a new blogger on the Terry network, and looking forward to writing a thing or two from time to time.  I’m a professor who specializes in Latin American Studies, so if the point of Terry is to promote interdisciplinarity and “global issues,” then I’m right there already.  After all, Latin American Studies is by its very nature interdisciplinary and Latin America… well, that must be global, right?

Or maybe not.  Let me say from the outset that I’m fairly skeptical about both interdisciplinarity and global issues.  Perhaps that’s because it’s already what I do.  Perhaps not.

But let me start with a question.  Are some places more global than others?

Or to put it more concretely.  The university is starting up a UBC Arts Global Citizenship Term Abroad.  First stop, Guatemala, in the Fall.  I’m sure it’s an excellent initiative, and I encourage you all to sign up: Central America is a marvelous place, and there is much to learn there.  I’ve spent plenty of time in the region myself.  My only query is: why go to Guatemala to learn about so-called “global citizenship”?

Market Day in Nebaj Guatemala

Is Guatemala more global than Vancouver?  Why take the bus to Quetzaltenango and not (say) to Commercial Drive, the Downtown Eastside, or the Pacific Center to learn just as much, if not more, about globalization?  “Do you want to get off the beat [sic] path? Meet the locals? Shop in the open-air markets?” Why would you want to do that in Guatemala and not here?  Indeed, why not start right here and right now, in New Westminister, Richmond, or North Van?

I think people who are attracted to Guatemala are in fact looking for the local (“meet the locals”), in a world in which the local seems to be fast disappearing.  “Global citizenship” is a way to construct and identify with new imagined localities, and in the process to distance yourself from your own back yard.

Do you agree?  Answers on a postcard.  Or in the comments box.  I look forward to the conversation.

(Image: “Market Day in Nebaj Guatemala.” Courtesy of virtualreality on Flickr.)

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Jon Beasley-Murray is an assistant professor in the Department of French, Hispanic, and Italian Studies. He teaches Latin American Studies.

7 Responses to “Are some places more global than others?”

  1. Jenny

    Maybe the idea is more to just immerse oneself in another culture – possibly something outside the comfort zone. I’m guessing one way to look at this is that to say that you’ve got a handle on global issues, it’s not a bad thing to get as many perspectives as you can. Getting that in Vancouver may be fine, but it might be something us UBC students already have.

  2. Shagufta

    Kudos. This is a great article and brings up valid points that I hope everyone should be processing before travelling. I found myself nodding as I was reading.

  3. Stephanie Gossett

    This reminds me of that antiquated phrase: “You can take the girl/guy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl/guy”. This phrase is of course referring to a southern style, more “cowboy” type definition, of “country”; but I think it’s also relevant to one’s own native culture. While I may be able to skip over to Commercial Drive and investigate the community over there, the culture is still predominately Canadian. The specifics of the differences in culture are too vast to list all of them; language written and spoken, smells, architecture, and even the comfort level for proximity of bodies in line for food, are all very diverse in other countries.
    I think comparing shopping at an open air market anywhere in North America versus anywhere is South America is a great challenge for people to familiarize themselves with their own community in a more curious fashion, seeking new experiences in your own backyard is always a great idea. I think it creates a person who is a more aware member of their community. Taking a bus to Richmond though, is not an example of desiring to become a global citizen, and not as high in the benefits of patience, sensitivity, understanding and even passion for a truly different culture and its people that one can gain from spending time in another part of the world.
    No one place can be more “global” than another, the word itself defines more than one place; and while you can take someone out of Canada, you can’t take the Canada out of the person in the short distance of a ride on the 99 B-Line. Traveling to other countries is possibly the only way to immigrate your very nature into another culture via experience that can only be gained by leaving your comfort zone.
    Sweet post! I love the conversational aspect of your piece.

  4. Jon Beasley-Murray

    Thanks for your responses. There’s a lot to say here, and I think I’ll continue with this theme in a subsequent post.

    Briefly, however, I’d say that there are many diverse perspectives even just within the lower mainland. And I’m not so sure that it is so comforting to recognize that. Indeed, it may be more comforting to think that it’s only “elsewhere” that we would feel discomforted.

    And I do wonder how many of us really venture beyond our daily routines here in Vancouver. I’d be willing to bet that more UBC students went to New York last year than to New Westminster, for instance.

    Meanwhile, there’s the whole ideology of travel as broadening the mind, as “immers[ing] oneself in another culture” or “immigrat[ing] your very nature into another culture via experience” and so on. I’m skeptical.

    As I say, I think I’ll write more about this next week. In the meantime, however, I recommend a short and easy book on the subject of travel: Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel.

    And this is not even to touch on the topic of the “global” or, still less, the dubious notion of “global citizenship.” All that for another day!

    Again, thanks for the responses. I hope the conversation continues…

  5. Kim Kiloh

    I think that there is indeed much to be discovered in Vancouver…and in Moose Jaw and Igloolik and Guatemala City…

    Of course there is still the problem that if you are not of a culture can you really be immersed in it?

    At the SLC last Saturday, Senator Mobina Jaffer told the audience that she goes walking at least once a month after midnight on the streets of her city: Vancouver. She considered it one way she could learn about the place she lives and she invited anyone in the audience to join her. I thought it was a brilliant idea.

    Great post!

  6. Shagufta

    Professor Jon-again, thank you for your thought provoking responses. Alain de Botton’s book is a wonderful read. 🙂

  7. David Kemp


    You make some excellent points and I do appreciate the conversational nature of this article. I would raise a few questions and that relate to your statement that we live in a world where “the local seems to be fast disappearing”. I’m going to assume that by this you are referring to how the sense of community is disintegrating in our increasingly individualist Western culture. If this is assumed to be the reality, why then would we search to study and learn about community, global citizenship, etc. in our own backyard, since we clearly do not exhibit an ideal sense of community? Why would we not attempt to analyze the true meanings of “citizenship”, “local” and “community” in areas less touched by our individualist western society? Just as people from less-industrialized societies would go to more industrialized societies in order to obtain valuable knowledge that they could apply at home, would it not make sense for people from a less community-minded country (like ours) to go somewhere more community-based in order to rediscover what is missing from our own society?

    I am signed up for the Guatemala Global Citizenship Term Abroad and this is one of the reasons why I was interested in participating. Popular rhetoric has led me to believe that the Guatemalan culture in general and the indigenous population specifically is much more community-minded than society in Canada in general. Hopefully, after exposure to a new culture, all participants will be more driven to become globally-minded citizens both on a global scale and in their own community, as you have said, as a result of having common assumptions and beliefs about community and citizenship challenged.

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