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Eye on Psi Chi: Spring 2015

Social Identity:
Practical Planning for
Becoming a Global Citizen

John M. Davis, PhD, Texas State University

Who are you? How do you think of yourself? Are you like all people around the world? Are you totally unlike anyone else? Who makes up your in-group? Who makes up your out-group?
Social psychologists who study identity and particularly social identity may have some interesting answers even if they have never met you. For example, you would probably agree that some of the above questions, perhaps all of them, can be answered in multiple ways. Did you know that the various answers to these questions can be influenced by subtle external circumstances? For example, Social Identity Theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1986) explains how we can define ourselves differently from moment to moment and from situation to situation. It suggests that we think of ourselves on a personal versus social identity continuum. At the personal end of the continuum, we think of our individual traits and characteristics. At the social end, we think of ourselves in relation to groups that we belong to or with which we identify.
Personality psychologist Gordon Allport (1961) thought of identity as consisting of three levels: Each of us is like all other people in some ways, each of us is like some other people in some ways, and each of us is completely unique in some ways. Even if you are an identical twin, you have experiences that are not exactly duplicated.
So what does all this have to do with the initial questions about you? And how does Psi Chi fit in? Psi Chi has recently expanded its domain from national to international. Psi Chi is now the International Honor Society in Psychology. Along with that expansion has come a new identity for the Society. The benefits that Psi Chi has made available to special high achievers such as you are being made available to high achievers in other countries where psychology is also vibrant as a science and profession. Along with that change comes a change in who you are, at least in one particular detail. You are a member of Psi Chi and now you share that distinction with people beyond your own country. Does thinking about that make you feel a little different? You are now a member of an international Society of high achievers. You have colleagues in other countries who would enjoy meeting you and learning about you. You also have opportunities to learn more about the rich variety of the human experience. Remember, each of us is unique in some ways, and there is much to learn about the great diversity of human experience.
I know this to be true from my own experience. Even as a child, I was enthralled by stories of exotic places told by visiting missionaries that my parents invited to our home on Sunday afternoons after church. My parents also made a point of getting to know the International Student Advisor at a university about 30 miles from our home. With his help, we met and became friends with two young men from Kenya who were studying engineering. They stayed with us on many weekends, and I was fascinated to learn about their lives, and about the history of Kenya and its struggles.
I made a promise to myself to grow into a person who could be capable and comfortable living anywhere in any country or culture. Knowing that language would be important, I studied Spanish in high school. I continued to study Spanish as an undergraduate psychology major and then, while earning a master’s degree in psychology, I studied German.
After completing the master’s degree, I was encouraged by my German professor, Willis (Oz) Sadler, to spend some time in Germany. He planned to be there on a one-semester faculty exchange program at Schiller International University. I took his advice, and it changed my life. In Germany, I had opportunities I would never have previously imagined. I was committed to improving my German language skills and willing to work at any job to do so.
Although I didn’t have enough money to study at Schiller, I earned room and board there before the semester began by doing janitorial work. I helped move furniture, swept floors, and even overhauled bicycles in preparation for the upcoming semester. When the semester began, I was planning to move on and look for another menial position where I could continue improving my German. However, something totally unexpected happened. The faculty member who had been hired to teach psychology failed to arrive. Professor Sadler told the President of Schiller that I could do the job, and to my amazement I was offered the position. Although I felt rather unprepared, I accepted and taught psychology courses and also served as the psychological counselor that year at Schiller. That was a wonderfully enriching experience, and I made several life-long friends.
I could have continued to teach at Schiller, however, I was committed to improving my German language skills. At Schiller, I was teaching in English, so I decided to move on. I was accepted at the University of Heidelberg to study German language and literature and was able to greatly improve my fluency in German. Then I moved to the University of Erlangen-Nurnberg where I continued studying German language and literature as well as psychology. Although I returned to the United States to complete my PhD in psychology, I continue to think of Germany as my second home.
I have benefited from many other international experiences: living in other countries, conducting cross-cultural research, leading study abroad programs, and traveling to present research at international psychology conventions. All these experiences have contributed to who I am.
What about you? Do you want to be more international? If so, here are some practical ways to begin your life-long journey as a global citizen:

Look for the international content in your psychology textbooks.
Learn about the international interests and experiences of the faculty in your department.
Get to know international students and international faculty on your campus.
Enroll in a psychology course that covers international psychology, cross-cultural psychology, multicultural psychology, cultural psychology, psychology of diversity, etc. If your department does not yet have such a course, see if one of the faculty members in your department has an interest is one of these areas and would agree to supervise you in a special topics course.
Enroll in a cultural anthropology course.
Commit to taking courses in a foreign language, or perhaps additional courses if you already have a foundation.
Encourage your Psi Chi chapter to find a sister chapter in another country. Psi Chi now has chapters in 10 countries outside the United States. You can find more information on the Psi Chi website at
Consider applying for a student Fulbright Award. Yes, students are eligible for Fulbright Awards. There is probably a Fulbright representative on your campus.
Enroll in a study abroad program. Most universities and colleges organize study abroad programs and often provide financial support.
Consider joining the Peace Corps for two years after you graduate.
Consider working in another country and really achieving fluency in another language.
I urge you to broaden your horizons and learn as much as you can about people in other countries and in other cultures while you are a university student. As a member of Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology, you’ve already been accepted into an international peer group. You can begin including international in who you are, in your social identity.
Allport, G. (1961). Pattern and growth in personality. Oxford, England: Holt, Reinhart, & Winston.
Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1986). The social identity theory of intergroup behavior. In S. Worchel and G. W. Austin (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations (2nd ed., pp.7–24). Monterey, CA: Brooks-Cole.

John M. Davis is a professor of psychology and Honorary Professor of International Studies at Texas State University. He served as Psi Chi President from 2006–07. During his term in office, he initiated and led the successful effort to expand Psi Chi from the National to the International Honor Society in Psychology. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to John M. Davis, Department of Psychology, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX 78666. E-mail:

Copyright 2015 (Volume 19, Issue 3) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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