Tourists have duty as global citizens

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

This Reading Week, a Cuban guy with a chemical engineering degree served me drinks while I lounged on the beach with 18 of my friends. The week before, he had done the same for 1,200 Canadian students on spring break.

I couldn’t help but feel guilty. Here was a person who was better educated than me but working the same job I do in the summer (and making much less).

As the guilt set in I started thinking about what responsibilities I had as a tourist in this country. Should I be seeing the sights outside the resort, attempting to better understand the culture? Should I have brought more money to tip? As the overprivileged culture in this world, what should we be doing â€" or be compelled to do â€" when we’re travelling internationally?

We will never willingly give up our privileged position in the world, so what can we do but tip well, be courteous and respectful and enjoy the beach?

Most tourists seem to share this mindset, since Cubans don’t have it particularly bad in the grand scheme of things, so it’s easy for most to escape guilt.

While we can’t claim to ever fully understand another culture, we have a responsibility as the wealthiest culture in the world, and as privileged and educated people, to make a conscious effort to understand as much as we can (even when in a resort).

My reasoning is this: travelling â€" especially great distances â€" is becoming easier and easier (tourism is one of the largest global industries).

In addition, our country’s international policy has a greater effect on other countries than ever before and our domestic policies can also affect multinational corporations, intergovernmental organizations and nongovernmental organizations, all of which can change things drastically on an international scene.

As we travel more, Canadians should remember that their political opinions carry international weight. Only by understanding others’ situations in the world can we participate in a modern democracy and ensure our decisions at home are informed.

Next time I travel, I will make a better effort to understand the country, the culture, and its relation to Canada. In today’s world, we can’t think of ourselves as citizens with borders; we are Canadian global citizens.

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