By Thea Bladt Hansen
— Amsterdam is known to promote itself as an international city and AUC mirrors this in its slogan of “Excellence and Diversity in a Global City”. But how is the good old feeling of nationality holding up in these challenging times of multiculturalism? And is a nationality replaced by an “internationality” in a global environment?
According to a poll conducted by The Herring, 73 out of a total of 185 respondents state that they have come to be more aware of their nationality, and how it affects their identity, after their studies at AUC have begun. 33 respondents state that they have become increasingly conscious of their nationality and an equal amount of respondents now find themselves belonging to an international community instead of being citizens of singular nations. The results show that going to an international university like AUC affects the way in which we interpret our national identity.
It seems like the students of AUC strive to rid themselves of expressing how they belong to a certain nationality because terms like national identity have gained a negative character as a consequence of nationalist parties, especially in Europe, and the manner in which they have defined national identity as something exclusive which underlines differences between people. But is nationality not of paramount importance when it comes to creating a global community?
In his book Imagined Communities from 1983, political scientist Benedict Anderson claims that nationality is merely a constructed illusion and that “the nation is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.” In some sense, the claim proposed by Anderson aligns with the third most popular response to The Herring’s poll – that students feel they now belong to an international community and not only one nation – as the respondents who chose this option do not consider the influence of their nationalities to be significant. Although it might seem like students swap their nationality with an “internationality”, which would again create an imagined community, the feeling of being part of an international community is not as random as being a citizen of a certain nation. Everyone at AUC share an academic interest, and therefore AUC is an example of a community in which people do have something in common.
However, this makes us question if we have actually entered the death of nationality. Miles Mullis, first-year Humanities major, is originally from London but has lived in the Netherlands since he was seven. He believes that nationality is well and alive, “The first thing you ask someone at AUC is ‘what’s your name, where are you from?’ It is the main topic of conversation when you meet someone.” Miles furthermore argues that the students’ nationality affects how they argue in class, “A lot of the examples I give are from England, especially in Cities and Cultures [a mandatory Humanities course], because it is interesting to have a comparison between the two [England and the Netherlands], to have some other reference point than where you currently live. I probably draw on my nationality for most of the things that I say. Your nationality influences your individual context, so in some sense, everything that you say is based on your nationality.” So it is perhaps not an entirely correct depiction of reality to think that AUC students are citizens of the world instead of a group of people with different nationalities. This is interesting as it differs from the previously described results of our online poll.
Historian Timothy Snyder wrote a book in 2017 commenting on the mistakes made during the 20th century and how people in our postmodern society should be very careful to avoid repeating them. Snyder emphasizes that nationality is important when it comes to creating a peaceful society, and in opposition to Anderson, he does not believe that the importance of nationality can be easily dismissed. Not only that, but one of Snyder’s main points is that we should all be patriots. This may evoke an uneasy feeling in some readers, but as Snyder points out, it is crucial to distinguish the terms patriot and nationalist. A patriot is someone who “wants the nation to live up to its ideals… A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing… that it would do better” whereas a nationalist “encourages us to be our worst, and then tells us that we are the best.” In that sense, should it always be considered wrong to acknowledge one’s national identity?
It could be that the essence of an international community is not losing a nationality but gaining an “internationality” – making students conform to one global identity. On the contrary, an international community could be a place in which every single nationality contributes its ideas and creates through differences. Perhaps even the existence of an international community in a world without nationalities can be questioned. After all, an “internationality” without nationality is merely “inter” which just means between without stating what surrounds the between. Nationality and “internationality” should therefore co-exist in an international environment and not be viewed as two opposing concepts.