Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Two-Thirds World

If you've read my blog for any length of time, you know I am an avid proponent of overseas travel. Not so much to see how many of the world's great beaches you can enjoy, but primarily to expand your cultural horizons. I recently had the privilege of speaking at the Vanderbilt University Virtual School, a wonderful program that uses video conferencing technology to reach middle school and high school students all over the US and beyond. My assigned topic was "Travel as Cultural Education", and even though my audience in this case was middle schoolers, I gave them plenty to look forward to, encouraging them to think about how they could take advantage of opportunities to broaden their cultural landscape.

This summer my wife and I are leading a group of primarily high school students to three European countries. We take great delight in helping Americans discover new cultures, languages, and, of course, this means people. But I also like to challenge young people in another direction: spending time in the two-thirds world. What we mean by this term is the fact that two-thirds of our world still lives in conditions that almost any American would consider substandard, whether it be lack of indoor plumbing, running water, or other commodities most Westerners consider indispensable.

What does this look like? The possibilities are too numerous to mention here, but one does not have to go far to find the two-thirds world. The poorest country in the western hemisphere, Haiti, is in our back yard, a two-hour flight from Miami. You get off the plane and feel as though you're in Africa in many ways. Then there is Visiting Orphans, the organization my daughter-in-law works for that facilitates visits to orphanages in developing countries. It would be difficult to overstress the importance of getting outside one's familiar surroundings to see how "the other half" lives -- and what better time than while you're still young. Bluntly put, it is better to see how spoiled one is early on. If used properly, this experience can help shape our decisions and lifestyle for the rest of our lives.

Are you or do you have a graduating senior? Perhaps the best gift you can give them is an opportunity to see how (part of) the rest of the world lives and thinks.