Changing the world through action, compassion

South Carleton student shares experience on becoming a Global Citizen

By Zoe Takacs

Grade 12 SCHS student

Becoming a global citizen is something I think we should all strive for, or at least have the opportunity to learn about. Through high school, I’ve been a part of an amazing program called the International Certificate Program (ICP). The ICP encourages students to realize internationally focused experiences for themselves making them more globally aware and engaged. My involvement in the ICP has changed my perspective of the world, and helped me become a more global citizen. For me, being a global citizen means having an interest in widening your horizons, and feeling that you belong to a global community which shares the same values for international issues. Issues such as public safety, and sustaining cultural diversity. A global citizen is someone who continually develops their knowledge of the world and strives to make positive change through action and compassion. 

My journey started in grade eight at an information evening at my future high school, when I sat in on the ICP presentation. I’d always loved travelling, so the thought of travelling to other countries got me hooked, and I set my goal: complete the certificate. My first ICP experience was in grade nine when I volunteered as a Student Ambassador for foreign students studying in Ottawa. It was the best volunteering experience I could have imagined. As a group, we did different activities like going to Calypso Waterpark, Upper Canada Village, the Byward Market, and canoeing. My role was to help the students practice their English. While we chatted, I found out some students had the same taste in music or even the same favourite childhood movies as I do. The more we talked, the more we recognized how much we had in common; even sharing stupid mistakes we had all made as kids, and then laughing about it.

Unexpectedly, I realized I felt connected to some of these students despite being from different cultures and countries. It was an amazing feeling because what are the chances that someone from another continent is going to share the same interests or experiences as you. Or so I thought. For me, in grade nine, it was a revelation. At the same time, I learned some students don’t have access to the same basic amenities that I do, such as safe public transit and open green spaces. This was hard for me to comprehend at the time, but I wanted to know more about what their lives were like; I wanted to know how they felt. And so now my desire to travel and see new places turned into a desire to meet new people from different backgrounds and to hear their stories.

A couple of months later, I went to another information session about the ICP. When I got home that night, I had a binder overflowing with information booklets from different organizations who arranged student exchanges. Promptly, I told my parents that I had decided I was going to do a student exchange to Hungary for five months and luckily they were very supportive. I prepared for a year taking Hungarian language lessons weekly, and soon found out why Hungarian is considered one of the most difficult languages to learn. Half of my family is from Hungary though, so I was motivated and had lots of encouragement. And it paid off because the second semester of my grade ten year was one of the best experiences of my life.

Zoe Takacs, right, said spending a semester at a Hungarian high school was one of the best experiences of her life.

While in Hungary, I lived with a host family and lived the life of a typical Hungarian high school student. I attended classes that would be easier for me to participate in, like French (my class was excited to learn some of my French-Canadian terminology), gym, art, and math. I met other exchange students who were attending my school as well as local kids and together we explored our town almost everyday, as well as frequent trips into Budapest. I was always in awe of the architecture, the outstanding food, and the lively festivals, but by far the most memorable part of my exchange were the people I met. After experiencing life in another culture and society for five months, I came home, excited to share my stories with anybody who would listen.

Even better was that upon my return, I had a full circle moment. I became a speaker at not only the grade eight information night at my school, but at the ICP event where I decided I was going to do an exchange. Besides learning the basics of the Hungarian language, my proudest moments were speaking to students about my experiences in the ICP, hoping to inspire them to seek out experiences like these for themselves.

Looking back now, these past four years have been life-changing. First, meeting students studying in Canada who changed my idea of the rest of the world being foreign and distant to something I felt more connected to and wanted to learn more about. Next, going on an exchange and immersing myself in my family’s culture which gave me a larger appreciation for our culturally diverse world. And lastly, sharing my experiences at events with hopes to encourage other students to become global citizens.

What I’ve learned through my participation in the ICP has changed me in ways that my grade nine self never anticipated. Not only have I become more aware and engaged within my own community and communities abroad, but I’ve grown more confident and independent as a person. And ultimately, I realized that it wasn’t the things I saw or did that were the most important, it was the people I was with. To be a global citizen, just get engaged in your community, spend time getting to know people by listening to their stories and being compassionate. Just by setting a goal, like I did four years ago, to be a more aware and compassionate person, you’ll already be on the path to becoming a global citizen.