Tuesday, March 21, 2006

On the Road, You and Me - New York Times

Must reading for all students at U.S. Universities. I find that we have such a disproportion between Americans with strong opinions on global politics but who have never spent any significant time outside of the borders of the States! On the other hand, I have met many people, young and old alike, from Europe, Australia, New Zealand etc...who have spent at least a year abroad who have a real grasp of global issues as well as the common interconnectedness of all cultures and peoples. Their personal experiences inform their views of global politics, economics etc..I can tell you that I will very strongly encourage my children to embark on such a course of travel as Kristof outlines in this article...

On the Road, You and Me - New York Times: "Where's the best place to get an education? Some might say Harvard or Yale, Oxford or the Sorbonne. But maybe you should add Ndjamena to the list.

Universities are — oh so slowly — recognizing that they need to prepare students to survive globalization. But most overseas studies programs are both too short and too tame. They typically involve sending a herd of students for a term in France or Italy, where they study a little and drink a lot together, amid occasional sightings of locals.

That's why I bring up Ndjamena, this dusty capital of one of the poorest countries in the world. A student living independently here could learn French and Arabic, and would emerge with a much richer understanding of the world than could be taught in any classroom.

Traditionally, many young Britons, Irish, Australians and New Zealanders take a year to travel around the world on a shoestring, getting menial jobs when they run out of money. We should try to inculcate the custom of such a 'gap year' in this country by offering university credit for such experiences.

So here's my proposal. Universities should grant a semester's credit to any incoming freshman who has taken a gap year to travel around the world. In the longer term, universities should move to a three-year academic program, and require all students to live abroad for a fourth year. In that year, each student would ideally live for three months in each of four continents: Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe."...

Since the best way to learn about public health challenges is to endure them, I would also suggest offering extra credit for any student who gets malaria.

The cost of a year of travel would be far less than the annual cost of attending many colleges in the U.S. Third-class trains and buses are incredibly cheap; you can sometimes ride free on top of the trains. As a student backpacker myself in India two decades ago, I once lined up with the beggars and lepers of Amritsar to get free gruel from a Sikh temple — but that embarrassed even me.

In any case, all this suffering builds character. And students would get far more out of a year of travel than a year in classrooms.

Meanwhile, there's no need for universities to take the first step. Spring break season is upon us, and university students are dashing off to party in Mexico and Florida. So, you student readers, how about dashing off instead to Mongolia, where you'll find plenty of sand — the Gobi Desert — and get a truly exotic alcoholic drink: fermented mare's milk.

As for parents, if you have a child graduating from high school or college this year, forget about a conventional graduation present. Instead, send him or her off with a friend with a one-way ticket to Timbuktu...

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