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Brexit, the US election, troubles in Turkey, an ongoing refugee crisis, frequent acts of violence and terrorism – 2016 was a turbulent year. You know how to make 2017 better than 2016? By widening your focus, deepening your empathy, and working to positively impact the world around you. No, it may not make a huge difference in the world at-large. But becoming a better citizen of the world will improve your life and it will bring us one step closer to a more understanding future.
Ready to get educated and socially responsible without drowning in social justice theory or packing up to join the Peace Corps? Here are some little ways you can be a better global citizen in 2017.
1. Keep up with the world news
Read the local and national news, but then shift your focus larger. What’s happening in South America? China? New Zealand? North Africa? A few ideas for how to do this:
- If you read the news from an app, add international sources (The Economist and the BBC are both good for global issues) or topics (“Africa”, “Taiwan”, etc.).
- Subscribe to an email newsletter dedicated to regional news. I get Quartz’s Africa Weekly Brief, which I’ve learned a lot from.
2. Investigate your charities
Where’s your money going? The new year is a good time to make sure you’re putting your money somewhere where it’s helping, not hurting. Some questions to ask:
- Does this organization actively involve clients in leadership positions and decisions? Does it value the voices of the people it’s helping?
- Does this organization have a good track record with managing money? High operational costs are not a bad thing – nonprofit employees need paychecks, too! – but scandals or issues with the government are signs of problems.
- Do they have generally positive mentions in news sources?
- Are they working with other NGOs?
- Do they seek long-term or short-term solutions? (Both have their places, but emergency aid is not the same as developmental work!)
If you’re not currently supporting a non-profit organization, now is a great time to do so! Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, and Kiva are personal favorites.
3. Actively seek out people who are different from you
There are so many ways to go about this, but if you want some ideas:
- Contact your local mosque and ask if it’s alright for you to visit
- Volunteer at an interfaith event
- Pick a news source with high journalistic standards but with a different slant than you usually read
- Read or subscribe to news sources meant for groups you don’t belong to. (I’m not a Middle Eastern woman, but I subscribe to Ella Letter.)
- Visit a faith gathering you wouldn’t usually attend
- Volunteer to work with people different from you
5. Learn a language
There are so many free or low-cost options for learning languages out there that you really don’t have an excuse. Italki, FluentU, and Yabla are some of the best paid services. Duolingo, Hinative, Language Transfer, and Memrise are my favorite free picks. Depending on the language you’re working on, other specific resources are likely available, like Decipher and Pleco for Mandarin or Coffee Break Spanish. Between podcasts, Netflix shows, YouTube channels, free apps, and the local library, you’ve got plenty of free study sources.
Side note: if you want to get serious about language learning, my favorite resource is the book Fluent Forever.
6. Take a class
Sometimes a bit of structure is good for learning. Check out the free college courses on Coursera or get your hands on a lecture series from The Great Courses. I’ve been working through several of their courses on Eastern civilization this year and I’ve learned so much. (My mom’s tip for getting The Great Courses cheap: buy them through Audible. They’re vastly cheaper that way. Some libraries also have a selection.)
7. Read some fiction
Fiction is one of the best ways to build empathy, plus they can be more interesting than non-fiction. Try googling “books by [locality] authors” or “books from [location]”, then picking up anything of interest. To get you started, here’s a list of 25 books by African authors released in 2016, and here are 10 award-winning books by Asian authors.
8. Examine your purchasing habits
What’s the cost of your fashion? Your food? The new year is a great time to shift away from past ruts towards shopping patterns that generate less waste and favor responsible producers. You’ve heard it before: thrift more, buy less, cut down on meat consumption, bring your own bags to the grocery store. They’re little things, sure, but they add up over a lifetime.
9. Tell others
Get your book club to diversify their reading list. Share that well-written thought piece on Facebook. Forward your South American News brief to your friend who’s just started studying Spanish. Educating yourself and changing your lifestyle are useful, but the benefits increase exponentially if you share what you’re learning.
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