International experience among life highlights, expands understanding
The world is shrinking. With communication technology continually improving, people from around the world are now closer than ever.
Realizing that, and with a passion for travel myself, this week has been encouraging.
On one hand, I've been lucky enough to read e-mails from Beth Durkin detailing her work in the Peace Corps teaching English in Mongolia.
I spent a month after my sophomore year in college teaching English in China. Reading her e-mails, many of the memories I had teaching in the lake town of Hangzhou came back to me.
I remember how enthusiastic the students were. The group I taught had just finished their eighth-grade year. Even in their lulls, the students seemed to almost burst with energy. My job was to lead them in speaking lessons and to share slices of American culture.
I remember the students were very fond of NBA basketball. I can't tell you how many of the youngsters wanted their English name to be Shaq or Kobe.
By far my trip to China was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life.
Even so, I realize it's just a shade of what Durkin is doing.
I was only gone for a month. By the end, I was starting to mend my broken Mandarin phrases and find my bearings. But before I could say "Ni Hao," I was back home.
Durkin is spending two years in Mongolia. Through her Peace Corps training she's learned to be almost completely self-sufficient.
In China, I was dazzled by their biggest cities. Both Shanghai and Hangzhou seemed to take neon lighting to a whole new level.
When I returned from the classroom, I had a hotel room waiting. Heck, I had laundry service.
Durkin, however, is making do with much less.
Something else too I find comforting. She said she chose the Peace Corps because she wanted to help people.
She's not building bridges, but she is giving the Mongolian people a valuable commodity.
For better or worse, English is the language of business in Asia.
If you're fluent in English and have even moderate teaching experience, you can find a company to pay your way to Japan, China or Korea. People will pay money to become fluent in English.
The money didn't enter into it for Durkin. She said she knew she wanted to serve for an international non-profit organization.
Also, I had a chance to talk to students in Eudora High School's International Club. The club is probably one of the best things I can imagine for high school students. At that age they're really beginning to discover the world.
If they realize how life differs in other countries and respect that difference, they are a step of ahead when it comes to college or business.
I had a fond interest in other countries when I was their age, but it took a Malaysian roommate and several language courses for me to really realize how much there is out there.
When I first stepped outside of the country, I was amazed, humbled, amused and a little apprehensive at every turn. In the end, I loved it.
The students in the international club might get the opportunity to experience the same thing. If so, they will help the world shrink even more.