Thanks to everyone who is working make this a better world.
Most of you reading this know that I’m the author of Tales of a Female Nomad, Living at Large in the World; and more than 70 children’s books… the most popular, More Spaghetti, I Say!
I’m also a nomad. I gave away all my possessions 28 years ago and took off to connect with people and write about cultures all over the world. I haven’t had a home since. I spent years in Mexico, Central and South America, Indonesia, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Tanzania, and more. Wherever I go, I live with the people and stay for months, sometimes years…long enough to share lives, laughter, songs, food…and tears. And to build friendships.
Crossing cultures opened my eyes, my heart, and my soul to the exquisite humanity that we are all a part of…from royalty in Bali to tribal people in New Guinea who still hunt with bows and arrows. I have sung and danced and participated in ceremonies and daily family life. It was clear that wherever I went, I was welcome. The generosity I experienced was overwhelming. The deeper I got into a culture, the more powerful the unstated message: we are all the same. For most of those 28 years, I was overwhelmed with the “joy of connecting.”
Yet, every time I returned to the United States for a visit, I witnessed prejudice, intolerance, ignorance. The people of the world had welcomed me, a lone stranger, with smiles and invitations and food…but my country did not welcome them.
People, news programs, even Congress, talk endlessly of shipping foreigners back to where they came from. How quickly we have forgotten that the United States was built on the sweat, the passion, the creativity, the dreams, and the accomplishments of immigrants. Yet, how little we know about the lives and values of others.
My conclusion: if the U.S. wants to be a leader in the world, we need to create a population that has experienced the world firsthand. Respect, understanding, and love can’t be taught in a classroom. I’ve become a passionate believer that if we create a population that has interacted with other cultures, especially in the developing world, we will change not only the participants, but also the country and the world! That means, let’s get people to cross some borders and connect! Especially in the developing world.
Ideally I want everyone, any age, to get out and connect. But for now, I’m focusing on that year after high school, before college or a job. Most college freshmen have no idea what they want or who they are. I majored in “boys” my freshman year of college! Others major in “beer” or “fraternity” or “rebellion.” What a huge waste of that freshman tuition! Let’s get those kids off the treadmill and out into the world, before they enter college or jobs. There are programs, scholarships, volunteer opportunities…and the more we talk about it, the more there will be. Already many colleges encourage incoming students to defer for a year.
My goal is to create a Gap Year movement in the U.S. The plan is to alert, encourage, and financially help our youth to get off of the treadmill that is not adequately preparing them for the global world. They need to get out of the country. For three months, six months, a year! Have a look at the site of American Gap Association. And then go to the bank and start a GapAccount for your kids, your grandkids…and yourself. You won’t believe the joy that comes from connecting.
Photo courtesy of UnSplash.com.