Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Ugly American

This week the National Council for International Visitors celebrated 50 years of promoting citizen diplomacy.

According to its website "NCIV members design and implement professional programs, provide cultural activities, and offer home hospitality opportunities for foreign leaders and specialists participating in the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and other exchange programs."

So what, exactly, is citizen diplomacy? According to the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy, it's "the concept that the individual has the right, even the responsibility, to help shape U.S. foreign relations." But I'm not a huge fan of this definition. Aside from its U.S.-centric attitude, I think it defines an attitude without addressing the actions. I would say that citizen diplomacy is the collective actions of the people of one country to communicate with people from other countries, with the objective of improving international relationships. Using this definition, it would be fair to say that while not every traveller acts as a citizen diplomat, each has the potential to be a citizen diplomat.

Travel's been on my mind this week, as I prepare to embark on a research trip where I'll be investigating the impact of globalization on a community in Mexico. In "Place and Power in Tourism Development," Raoul Bianchi argues that "as the forces of globalisation intensify, tourism destinations, much like 'world cities,' can perhaps be envisaged as a nexus, situated at the interface of a transnational web of flows in which tourists, workers, migrants, and residents intersect." In such communities, citizen diplomats have a variety of opportunities to work with others and construct new understandings of culture--and not just of their home culture, but of the new cultures that are shaped by such interactions.

So, what advice would you give me for my upcoming voyage, as I intend to be not simply a tourist and a scholar, but a citizen diplomat?

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