Being at home in the world

In the article on cosmopolitanism I introduced the concept of the cosmopolitan mind-set, in this article I will elaborate on that topic by relating citizenship to the concept of “being at home in the world”.

As I mentioned before, the term “cosmopolitan” comes from the ancient Greek kosmopolites, of which the actual meaning is “citizen of the world”. Up until today the ancient term relates to the idea of soothing the cravings for a better world.

A big question is whether as a citizen of the world, can one every really be at home the way locals are? This question has been partially addressed in the article on cosmopolitanism, this article will continue on this subject. Can one, for example simply master a culture by reducing its unpredictability? Most likely not, real cosmopolitans surrender to culture, even when uncomfortable. Competence in this sense might not have anything to do with competencies. For example, individuals and what they are might be different from for example what the international organisations they work for see: where organisations see competence, individuals themselves might go beyond competencies.

Looking at cosmopolitanism as to be at ease with strangers and unfamiliar surroundings and to associate this with the urban lifestyle of major expat and multi-cultural cities such as Rotterdam, The Hague or Amsterdam. From a social and cultural point of view this implies an appreciation of diversity in the mind-set of the cosmopolitan. Besides the social and cultural approach, the political view on cosmopolitanism is relevant because for example individuals arriving in Netherlands for a job, study or to seek asylum might be expected to have “universal” political concerns as that might be part of the nature of their job or residency status. They identify modes of social and cultural relations that may be of political as well as intrinsic importance. Moderate political cosmopolitanism (Calhoun, 2003: 8-15) values citizenship of the world besides citizenship in a variety of intermediate associations such as corporations and territorially based populations. Citizenship is seen as mediated through these different forms of association. The term cosmopolitan has to do with being at home in a world of mobility and travel. It can be seen as a way of living besides the ethical obligation to see the world as a whole. It involves contact between people and cultures (Holton, 2009). According to Oomkes (2013: 208) every group creates its own culture, or a “this is how it should be” mentality. This is important because people cannot live without groups. Groups are essential for social need. It confirms people’s self-image, their views, their values and their norms. This process is marked by contradictions though. Because besides cultural homogeneity we also see an increase in the tension between cultures within today’s society.

Visualising the concept written above can be done by creating a table that includes both immigration and adaption (Blom, 2015:109).

Keep own culture Don’t keep own culture
Need to have contact with locals Integration Assimilation
No need for contact with locals Cosmopolitan orientation Marginalisation

This table shows a form of separation that marks the cosmopolitan oriented migrants. They are on average English speaking and very often they don’t speak the local language. They demonstrate a kind of openness to the multicultural society, yet they are not aware of the local customs. They form a community within a community and they often work for international employers. An important aspect for the local environment is they don’t feel like a threat to the local society and therefore local communities are not annoyed or disturbed by them (Blom, 2015: 110-111). This phenomenon can be referred to as the “expat bubble”: being in a place but don’t engage with this place. Integration, assimilation and marginalisation have their own implications, which will be addressed in a later article as for now the focus lays on the cosmopolitan orientation.

Cosmopolitans often have strong feelings of membership in particular communities. They are not antilocal, they are supralocal: connected with communities but transcending them at the same time (Halsall, 2009:7). Gustafson shows that although locals and cosmopolitans are often seen as two mutually exclusive categories where more of one means less of the other, this not correct though (Gustafson, 2009). His study suggests that more cosmopolitanism does not necessarily mean less localism. It suggests that localism and cosmopolitanism may be regarded as two different dimensions. It suggests that local and cosmopolitan resources can be combined on the one hand by local social networks and a sense of local belonging and involvement, and on the other hand by a range of opportunities and experiences obtained through openness and geographically scattered connections and activities.

A Swedish research by Castells in 1996 on travel activity, attitudes, and orientations looks at the possibility of causal relationships between travellers and their orientations. The results show that there are significant associations between frequent international travel and international orientations. At the same time, travel did not appear to change any local orientation of the respondents. Respondents were not disconnected from their local communities. There is not necessarily causality between the two though; travel most likely does indeed have an impact on a person’s orientation. For example, people with a cosmopolitan orientation may actively look for jobs that include international travel. What the analysis does show is that the strong relationship between international travel and cosmopolitan orientations cannot be explained by underlying socio-demographic factors (Castells, 1996:416). Which is good, because critics of the concept of “being at home in the world” often seems to state that the concept is only for those well educated from a relatively wealthy background.

So far, the introduction to the concept of “being at home in the world”. Both cosmopolitanism and citizenship will come back at a later point in time. Enough theory for now though, after this basis on intercultural communication it’s time for some examples. Which will start with a throwback to the 1980’s and a personal story of my own first encounter with miscommunication between two cultures. Linguistics will turn out to be a big part of any miscommunication, and the theoretical aspects of this will be covered in an article at some point as well.

If there are any specific topics you would love to see covered send me a message and let me know!

For more of Dialogue with the Dutch, follow me on Facebook look me up on Instagram or email me.



Blom, H. (2015). Interculturele samenwerking in organisaties. Bussum: Coutinho.

Calhoun, C. (2003). “Belonging” in the Cosmopolitan Imaginary. Ethnicities, 3(4), 531-553.

Castells, M. (1996). The Rise of the Network Society The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Volume 1. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.

Gustafson, P. (2009). More Cosmopolitan, No Less Local, European Societies, 1(1), 25-47.

Halsall, R. (2009). The Discourse of Corporate Cosmopolitanism, British Journal of Management, 20, 136–148.

Holton, R.J. (2009). Cosmopolitanisms: New thinking and new directions. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Oomkes, F.R. (2013). Communicatieleer: een inleiding. Amsterdam: Boom.


Photo by Slava Bowman on Unsplash