by Dr. Michael T. Benson, President, Eastern Kentucky University
"Not all those who wander are lost" -- J.R.R. Tolkien
Having just returned from China -- my third trip there in as many years -- I came away even more impressed by the invaluable lessons one can learn by merely getting out and seeing the world. My first two trips to China focused on the financial capital, Shanghai, and the seat of government, Beijing. This trip ended with one of the most fascinating cities I have ever experienced: Hong Kong.
As our plane touched down in the home of one-fifth of our globe's population, I was instantly reminded of these words from the inimitable Mark Twain:
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.
While I have been fortunate to have lived seven years of my life in three endlessly interesting nations -- Italy, Israel and England -- I am sorry to say that I have only visited 25 percent of those nations who make up BRIC: Brazil, Russia, India and China.
Many have written and opined about the British and American centuries, their erstwhile empires and their resultant diminishing global influence. And still many others argued that the 21st century will be shaped by these countries, BRIC, more than any others. I would argue that the best way to find out about these places and their people is to follow the advice of one of America's greatest writers: go and see them for yourselves. This is what I intend to do.
I am also reminded of how insular and parochial Americans tend to be as we expect others to adapt to our ways and to speak our language. We have much to learn from the rest of the world. Never was this more clearly brought into focus than by the example of our Palestinian driver during a recent visit to Jerusalem. Though he had less than a formal high school education, Khalid was fluent in six languages and demonstrated his ability to communicate and interact with all sorts of individuals on a daily basis.
As I constantly tell my students, the responsibility to do something with their education is real and it is serious. And this educational experience is made immeasurably more rewarding by availing oneself of every possible opportunity to travel -- to see the world, to learn a language, and to experience a different culture.
Only then can one truly hope to understand the varying perspectives and opposing world views of those billions of people who are different from ourselves. Indeed, this is the antidote to bigotry and prejudice.
If there is anything we can take away from today's news, it is the simple fact that, just as Mr. Twain exhorted, the people of the world need more broad and charitable views of each other.
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