I’ve got a surplus of formal education: a B.A., two Master’s degrees, and a doctorate. But in the gap between my undergrad and graduate schooling I may have learned the most of all.
Two decades ago, contemplating acceptances to several law schools, I veered sharply off that path and hit a different road. After a month in Israel, three months in Brazil and some time hitch-hiking in Europe, a one-way ticket from New York to Bombay became the first leg of a year spent backpacking across Asia. India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, China, Tibet, and Indonesia. That was followed by several months in Mexico, language school in Guatemala and pushing further south through Honduras to Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
I didn’t have much money. I’d lived without parental support since I was seventeen. But I’d worked and saved after college. I spent all I had, traveling on a shoestring, mostly on local buses and trains.
Now, over twenty years later, I feel more than ever the priceless value of what I saw and what I learned being exposed to all of those cultures, all those different ways of being. I’m a changed person as a consequence. I see life and world events through a different lens.
As I see the impact of myopic American thought from the White House to the house down the street, I can’t help but be reminded of how different it would be if more Americans experienced life beyond our borders. Not resort bubbles, insulated from local culture. I mean meeting the locals, eating with them, seeing their schools and where they live.
That whole “us vs. them” thing inevitably blurs into a sense of our common humanity, of our shared needs for love, sustenance, and safety.
If I were Master of the Universe, there would be a requirement for all high school seniors to experience at least one semester abroad, living with a family, not just in Paris or Munich, but in Delhi or Bangkok or Managua. And we’d expand programs like the Peace Corps as a way for the U.S. to be known around the world, at least as much for those contributions as for those made by our Armed Forces, contributions which are often ill-conceived by those in charge. American citizens would experience other cultures around the world, and the people there would see a different face of who Americans are. These kinds of cross-cultural human connections, can change the world one relationship at a time. They could transform our planet into the global village we could become, where it’s harder to hate and to kill.
It’s no magic potion for world peace. But it’s a start.
This I believe.
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