Unpacking a model of global citizenship and intercultural understanding for our sustainability and well-being
Unpacking a model of global citizenship and intercultural understanding for our sustainability and well-being
Leo Thompson CIS School Support & Evaluation Officer


By Leo Thompson, MA, MEd, CIS School Support and Evaluation Officer


The three global pandemics presently impacting upon us—Covid 19, unsustainability, and discrimination—have provoked me to join some dots to present an ‘unpacked’ model of global citizenship and intercultural understanding (GCIU), a core goal of CIS and our transnational membership community across more than 120 countries.

The ambitious model below pulls together diverse research to provide an overview of the broad humanitarian scope of GCIU work and how core values, attitudes, concepts, and competencies intersect. Beginning with the ‘why’ aspect of this work, I stress our collective responsibility to have a positive impact, pushing values and attitudes to the forefront.

The model is intended to be a useful ‘map of the terrain’ for busy international educators with accompanying links to resources. It does not offer a prescription, as that would ignore very diverse education contexts. It does, however, make three ‘big claims’ and offer a ‘buffet’ of ideas and resources to stimulate discussion and help learning organisations create and review their own statements, just as we do within CIS.

The contents of this post might also serve as a good entry point for communities who are just coming to grips with inclusion via diversity, equity and anti-racism (I-DEA) actions—many schools are asking us about how to approach this work.

Three big claims and a buffet of ideas to stimulate discussion

Whilst listening to the wail of yet another ambulance driving past my apartment, I recently had an unpleasant epiphany: we are currently trying to get through ‘three pandemics’ not one: 1) Covid-19, 2) global unsustainability, 3) discrimination, inequality and injustice. The third pandemic is older than the others, but all three relate to our work as educators.

Thankfully, we work in education because it will be learning—at whatever scientific, societal and political level—that heals wounds and solves these problems. That’s the first big claim in this post!  

My second big claim is: Everything you will see in the unpacked model, and read in this post, somehow connects to two very large dots: well-being and sustainability, either for ourselves, our cultures, our societies, or this spinning blue sphere of bio-diversity we call home. That is not a trivial motivation.


Why global citizenship is often seen as a nice to have, I never completely understand, as it provides knowledge, understanding skills valuable, nay essential for lifelong learning.

Chris Durbin, Associate Director of School Support & Evaluation, CIS


The shared global citizenship and intercultural understanding (GCIU) model lists 10 core concepts, 9 core values/attitudes, and 8 core competencies. The model is a creative ‘lockdown 2’ collaborative attempt to simplify and bring together academic research and a diverse range of articles and GCIU related statements, including humanitarian, transnational organisations like UNESCO, Oxfam, and the Ban Ki-Moon Centre. It is an ambitious map of the GCIU terrain that merges values, attitudes, concepts and competencies—connecting and intersecting them to illustrate the scope (an overview) of the widespread work going on globally in schools, universities, and other philanthropically minded institutions. This ‘hearts, minds and hands’ approach, relating to three circles (concepts, values/attitudes, competencies) grouped in the model, offers three main perspectives from which to approach the topic. As the listed core concepts, attitudes and competencies clearly interrelate, they suggest that what we know, understand, and truly value should guide what we say and do.

Global citizenship and intercultural understanding are an intersecting set of core values, attitudes, concepts and competencies that empower us to contribute to our societal and global well-being, sustainability, fairness, and peace.

Global citizenship and intercultural understanding ‘unpacked’

A model for global citizenship and intercultural learning by Leo Thompson

Associated links to resources and articles:


It is important to note that the GCIU model deliberately blends global citizenship and intercultural understanding, which are interconnected but not the same despite sharing the same values/attitudes and overarching purpose. The linked research indicates that global citizenship is larger in scope than intercultural understanding in the sense that it covers more conceptual ground, such as global interconnectivity, sustainability, identity and belonging, and a range of ethical global issues including discrimination and injustice, amongst other topics. Intercultural understanding is a critical component of global citizenship that CIS chooses to emphasise because diverse cultures are mixing and interacting all the time—not least in international education.


The IDI defines intercultural competence as "the capability to shift cultural perspective and shape behavior to cultural commonality and different". 

Chris Green, School Support & Evaluation Officer, CIS
Trivial Pursuit pie %22Trivial Pursuit - yellow token with coloured wedges%22 by Leo Reynolds is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


A simplified metaphor might be that global citizenship is all Trivial Pursuit(TM) cheeses (aka pies/pizzas), and intercultural understanding is two of the six cheeses and has a very special set of desired competencies (a complex blend of skills, knowledge, values and attributes). Without those two cheeses we can never truly be empowered and responsible global citizens!


Alternatively, I would actually say that intercultural competence is the yellow piece (container) that holds all those global citizenship pieces together.

Angeline Aow, member of the CIS I-DEA Board committee and IB PYP Coordinator (Upper Primary)


Instead of ‘concepts’, ‘values/attitudes’, and ‘competencies’, other labels, or ‘big buckets’, such as topics, cognitive, knowledge, character, socio emotional, skills, and behavioural, could all easily be used to organise the same elements and clusters. The model tries to offer a rich buffet of ideas/perspectives/virtues rather than a hegemony, so take what cheeses you want!    


The research is clear on this; schools find it difficult to navigate the multiplicity of terms, concepts and worldviewsso they need support to work through what these mean and how they apply in context.

Eeqbal Hassim, Associate Professor, University of Melbourne

Though the unpacked GCIU model is quite detailed—there needs to be a lot of flex (looseness) in what individuals, schools, universities, and other organisations, choose to focus on as they push for excellence in their unique contexts. This flex to add and edit (reduce), and shape for context or preference, is suggested by this symbol ±? It is not a prescription—as every model is somehow flawed—but an ‘invitation’ to stimulate further conversation. Perhaps it will help push the boundaries of our understanding and empower those feeling a little less prepared. Note that concepts and competencies very much interlink, and these connections are complex and not portrayed in these rough groupings. For this reason, curriculum planners usually backward design (e.g. why, who, what, how, when) first using these discrete lenses into account and separating competencies, concepts and values/attitudes, knowledge, etc, so that they can understand their relationship and put them back together coherently. Hopefully, despite its stated limitations, the unpacked framework will still be helpful to fellow educators. Dr Martha Ross, who conducted her doctorate research in this field at the University of Bath, states:


There is a huge weight of responsibility (as there should be) on us as educators, but all the while educators are not trained in global citizenship or intercultural understanding, it can feel like a burden.

Dr Martha Ross, Univerity of Bath

In this light, the model should function as a guide and stimulus for further research and professional dialogue.


I think this topic is about creating continual discussion and debate, and no finished product is ever achieved (or should be expected).

Dr Rick Spradling, CIS International Liaison Officer


The key message to take away here is that finite time constraints mean we cannot cover everything in our curriculums, but we can all find our ways to collaborate and contribute—and that is absolutely fine! “Put simply, focus on what is most important to you and here you are.” Each learning institution should seek to define GCIU in its context, use its unpacked statement to inventory its programmes, and bring its definition alive! The terminology is not so important—for example, the IB enshrined international mindedness, as well as interculturalism, internationalism and global learning are deeply embedded in the scope of this model—but understanding the ‘why’ and purpose of the work is critical regardless of what we call it. No well-being, no sustainability, no peace, no fairness, and no justice are the result if we fail in our societies. We would have un-civilized ourselves!      


Global citizenship and intercultural understanding—An ELC international education enables children to understand the world, and their place in it. They are able to take an active role in working with others to make the planet more equal, fair and sustainable. ELC International builds respect and understanding for different cultures through co-construction and interconnection which results in a community where we change and grow together, creating new shared values.

Authentic GCIU statement from The City School (ELC), Bangkok, Thailand


CIS is not alone in believing that an organisation’s GCIU statement/definition should function as a promise that it should strive to deliver on, and that promise is fundamentally connected to its mission and context. Some learning institutions may place a bigger emphasis on service learning, whilst others focus more on communication skills, learning languages, and intercultural competencies. Others may be more environmentally and sustainability minded, whilst others may be more intent on taking social action for justice, amongst various other options. All are important as long as they have positive, empowering impact on the learners and the well-being and sustainability of world they inhabit and will eventually help shape. Educators should reflect deeply and select their core values and attitudes, proceeding from there as these are the springboard and compulsion for genuine global citizenship and intercultural understanding. The choice of language here is very important, and often very culturally sensitive, so educators and organisations must find a way to make their own connection and meaning.


I think a further area of research alongside this work is of course the language we use in what is a moving playing field.

Stuart McLay, former Director of International Accreditation, CIS


I am thinking: what about the external economic, political, social and cultural forces that contextually impact and influence how these ideas are unpacked and re-defined contextually

Dr Sudha Govindswamy, School Support and Evaluation Officer 


The final caveat is to recognise the importance of ‘identity and belonging’ in this work. A harmful belief exists, often propagated through misunderstanding, that global citizenship is a threat to national citizenship and cultural identity formation. This is a myth and global citizens are not an ‘enemy of the state’: national citizenship and global citizenship are highly compatible, especially if viewed through the mutual prism of respect, empathy and the responsibility (the three emboldened values/attitudes in the model) to make an ethical ‘net contribution’.


Not only am I a proud Kazakh citizen, I am a world citizen!

Grade 10 Student, NIS Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan


We must first learn who we are, and appreciate the richness of our language, cultural heritage and multifaceted identities before widening our vision and identifying as global citizens. We can simultaneously be patriotic national citizens and interculturally competent global citizens.


We have a responsibility to celebrate race, culture, nationality, gender, and all the various identities which come together within every individual in our school and university communities. Only then will they be fully liberated to thrive as true global citizens.

Nunana Nyomi, Associate Director of Higher Education Services 


This link with well-being is strong as having a sense of rootlessness and identity, or failing to belong, has a proven link with depression, perhaps even higher amongst ‘third culture kids’. Identity and belonging are critical roots, and we can start this work by looking at values and attitudes. We learn to value who we are, and this complex identity transcends culture to many other areas. We can then proceed to find mutual values and attitudes to bridge across cultures and societies. Look inwards and then look outwards.

Subsequently, my third big claim is that every value, attitude, concept and interrelated competency in this unpacked GCIU model is as valid for national citizenship as it is for global. Happily, they are cross-functional, transferable and essentially transnational.


Because the communities where we live, work and play are now multicultural microcosms of the world, and we need tools like empathy, acceptance, inclusion, trust and self-confidence to live in harmony.


The unpacked 10 concepts, 9 values/attitudes, 8 competencies GCIU model can be summarised as 1098. Coincidentally, the number has a profound resonance across a number of cultures and numerologists say this number reflects new beginnings, infinity, energy, and humanitarianism. Symbolists say that this number symbolizes balances and realization, richness and success, noting the significance of 8 in Chinese culture and much of Asia. The richness and success could be said to be our collective well-being and the sustainability of our societies and fragile earth. Together we must play an infinite game—one larger than ourselves and our microcosms. We must no longer play the finite game of hyper-consumption and risk that we have played in our industrialised societies. 


So, it is here that we not only learn, but also un-learn and re-learn!

Peter Williams, Principal, KAS


Let’s move on to the final message below that relates to all three pandemics.  


Countless examples of extraordinary human spirit, empathy and respect have emerged in contrast to equally innumerable manifestations of deeply entrenched biases, prejudices, stereotypes, mistrust and hatred among diverse groups. The need for active and responsible citizenship, both local and global, has been further emphasised and highlighted by the pandemic.

The Intercultural Understanding Curriculum Review (awaiting publication), Commissioned by South Australia Department for Education, Led by Associate Professor, Eeqbal Hassim, University of Melbourne            


This is our call to further action. We must make it real!

With humility.


Global citizenship development at CIS

CIS members can learn about global citizenship developments at CIS—what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and what to expect—by reading more on the member-only CIS Community portal.




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Image credits: Thanks to students at Vienna International School (VIS)  and The City School (ELC), Bangkok.

A warm thank you to Jane Larsson, Stuart McLay, Chris Durbin, Nunana Nyomi, Dr Sudha Govindswamy, Dr Rick Spradling, Nico Evers, Chris Green, Chris Maggio, Ann Straub, Cecile Doyen, Kate Taverner, Dr Martha Ross, Associate Professor, Eeqbal Hassim, Angeline Aow, Peter Williams (KAS), Vanessa Reid (VIS), and many CIS colleagues and international educators, for the help in significantly evolving the unpacked 1098 CGUI model and content in this post. Thank you to The Vienna International School, The City School (ELC), Bangkok, and Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools respectively for supporting this post with student artwork, the GC statement, and a student quote.

Unpacking a model of global citizenship and intercultural understanding for our sustainability and well-being