Get Out of Here!

     I never have any real doubts about my constant message to students and faculty regarding the importance of travel abroad and of opening horizons as a means to prepare for the future (or, in some respects, catch up to the present!) Yet, there are times when I wonder why the message doesn’t seem to get through or why students and their institutions simply pay lip service to the concept without truly embracing globalism as a top, if not the top priority for an undergraduate education for the 21st century. When that wondering begins to turn to frustration if not outright despair, I hear or read or experience something from a completely different sector that reminds that I am not alone and that, if I am to fulfill my own commitment to international learning, I must keep pressing on with the message.
     Two recent events have renewed my purpose and recharged my batteries for the struggle. The first was a five-week stint in Europe, surrounded by young Europeans speaking two and three languages, traveling on their own, overcoming obstacles, solving problems by themselves in non-familiar cultural circumstances , in short, living outside their comfort zone in the midst of multiple habits, languages and customs. Within ten years the networks formed and the lessons learned from this summer in terms of how others speak, think, live, and work will have translated into the very skills required for the 21st century workplace among those who hope to lead. These young people constitute the true competition for our current generation of American undergraduates.
     The second event was somewhat less expected but perhaps even more satisfying and potentially more useful in terms of articulating the message to a target group of college administrators and students. While waiting at an airport gate in Munich, I came across a short interview with a Chicago businessman, admired for his entrepreneurial skills yet not readily associated with an international point of view. After describing some of the characteristics that contribute to his own success, this contemporary entrepreneur cuts right through all the verbal dancing that usually accompanies our pleas for internationalism. Here is the exchange between interviewer Adam Bryant, of the New York Times, and Quintin Primo III, founder and CEO of Capri Capital Partners, a Chicago-based real estate investment and development firm:
AB: What is your best advice to young graduates?
QP: Three words: Leave the country. Get out of here. That’s what I tell everybody – just go. I don’t care where you go, just go.
AB: Because?
QP: Because the world is changing. It is no longer acceptable to speak only English if you are 25 and younger. It’s unacceptable. You have little chance of being successful if you speak only one language (…) So you’ve got to get out of your front door, get out of the comfort and quiet of your home, and your safety zone, and step into a pool of risk where you have no idea what the outcome is going to be. Out of it all, you will have a much clearer idea of how the world perceives our culture, and all the value, and the benefits, and the beauty of our culture.
(International Herald Tribune, August 2, 2010)
     Quintin Primo describes the flipside of the travel coin. In order to be a global citizen it is not enough to learn what you can about others; it is just as valuable to learn how others perceive the culture in which we are formed. It can’t be done solely within the four walls of a classroom or the limits of a college campus but there is no better time or opportunity to incorporate this kind of learning than the undergraduate years. So let this become a new mantra for U.S. educators when students come for advice about how to plan for the future: “ Leave the country. Get out of here!”

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