cultural awareness

Immigrating to America, Take 2 (Season 2 final episode)

World to the Wise Podcast

You may remember hearing in the news about a family from the Kurdish area of Northern Iraq, who were on their way to make a new life in the United States when they were turned away at the Cairo airport as a result of President Trump’s executive order, in February 2017, banning immigrants from seven majority Muslim countries. Fuad Sharif Suleman had been employed by the US government, through a third party contractor, as a translator and interpreter in Northern Iraq, and was traveling to the US on a perfectly legitimate Special Immigration Visa.

Thanks to the work of a number of organizations and TN congressman Jim Cooper, Fuad, his wife, and three children were finally cleared to set out once again for their final destination of Nashville, where a crowd of around 200 were waiting for them at the airport with signs and chants of “Welcome home.” My wife Becky and I were in that crowd. A couple of months later, after numerous attempts to track them down, I was able to sit down with Fuad and all but one member of his family. I know you’ll enjoy meeting them.

This is the final episode of Season 2 of this podcast. We’ve had a great time taking you to people and places near and far, and look forward to much more in Season 3.

In the meantime, in just over a week, my wife Becky and I will be leaving for the Greek island of Lesvos, where we will be leading a team from the US to work for a week in a refugee camp run by the UN and the Greek government. After that, we will be welcoming the 2017 World to the Wise cultural tour group in Rome for an unforgettable cultural feast through Italy, Paris, and Amsterdam. You can follow our experiences on the World to the Wise Facebook page (have you liked that page yet?) and here on my blog.

Post-Apartheid South Africa

World to the Wise Podcast

The Republic of South Africa has had a tumultuous history since its inception, dominated for so long by the cloud of apartheid. In 1994 Nelson Mandela, who had been imprisoned for 27 years, was elected as president of the first truly democratic South Africa. But in 2017, four years since Mandela’s death, many in South Africa feel the country has taken more than one step back, racially and economically speaking.

I sat down on Skype with Rolf Weichardt, a white Afrikaner who has spent the better part of his life working on behalf of racial justice and reconciliation. He shared very openly about his country’s steps forward as well as backward, and how he sees South Africa moving forward.

How do you see post-apartheid South Africa? Are you from there or do have experience there? As always, your comments are welcome below.

Thanks, as always, for listening.

Two Brits in Yankeeland

World to the Wise Podcast

241 years ago, this new country called the United States of America was regarded by many in Great Britain as nothing more than an ungrateful child. Today the relationship between the two nations is arguably the closest relationship the US has. But just because we speak the same language doesn’t mean the two cultures are identical, by any means.

I sat down this week on Skype with Dan and Rachel Wheeler, who have just recently made a big move from the county of Sussex in southern England to Nashville, Tennessee. We had a light-hearted conversation about their adjustment process, any surprises that awaited them despite the fact they had traveled to the States many times, how Brits view the British monarchy on this the Queen’s birthday, the Downton Abbey phenomenon... and we also had a few chuckles about the endlessly entertaining differences between British and American vocabulary.

I hope you enjoy meeting Dan and Rachel Wheeler.

You'll hear Rachel mention the recent book by Queen Elizabeth, entitled The Servant Queen and the King She Serves. You can find that book right here:

We’re nearing the end (already) of Season 2 of this podcast, but have some great interviews lined up before we take a break, so stay tuned. Thanks as always for listening … and please consider becoming a Patron of this podcast so we can continue to bring you great content!

Being Muslim in America

World to the Wise Podcast

I live in Nashville, which is in the middle of a boom. People are moving here in droves, cranes dot the skyline, and we currently bear the moniker of “It City.” In the trendy, extremely gentrified neighborhood called 12 South, among the hip restaurants, bars, and coffee shops, is a building some might consider out of place: the Islamic Center of Nashville.

This is where I met up with this week’s guest. I walked in the front door and took my shoes off, like everyone else, to the sound of prayers being chanted (in Arabic, of course), and a handful of men at the front of the carpeted main room standing with heads bowed. There was no way I was going to go unnoticed here. I sat down on a chair in the small lobby to wait for Rashed Fakhruddin, President of the Islamic Center. But before he came and ushered me into the office just off the lobby, a number of men invited me inside to where the prayer was happening. “It’s OK, please come in!”

Rashed, a mild-mannered brown-skinned man with an easy smile, arrived and we settled in for what I hope for you is an enlightening and interesting conversation on Islam, being a Muslim in America, and common misconceptions many non-Muslims have. Meet Rashed Fakhruddin.

If the end of the interview sounds a little abrupt, it’s because Rashed heard another call to prayer in the main room of the mosque and had to rush in to participate. I’m not sure whether that was because he is president, or just that as a faithful Muslim he is very committed to showing up for prayer five times a day. Whatever the case, I’m sure our paths will cross again, and I’ll likely have more questions for him. Do you have questions about Islam? Comments? Have we sent you running the other direction? Let us know by leaving a comment on this page.

And while you’re here, please consider becoming a patron so we can continue the work of fostering cultural curiosity.

Thanks for listening!

1st Anniversary Edition: the Top 7 Downloads

World to the Wise Podcast

This weekend marks the first anniversary of the launch of the World to the Wise podcast. For me personally, it’s been more fun than should be legal – to talk to so many fascinating people, hear their stories, and pass these stories on to you so we can all grow and be challenged together. Challenged to broaden our perspectives and travel vicariously to other parts of the world; or, as the case may be, to other subcultures within our own borders. To mark the occasion we’ve decided to do a roundup of the top seven downloaded episodes from this first year of our existence. We thought this would not only be a great way to celebrate, but also give you a chance to hear a synopsis of some episodes you might not have caught so you can go back and listen. It’s never too late to catch an episode because you can just click on the podcast tab on this website.

Here are the top seven most downloaded episodes from the first year of this podcast adventure:

  1. Dr. Lee Camp, professor of theology and ethics at Lipscomb University. Lee discusses his insightful and incisive book, Who is My Enemy: Questions Americans Must Ask About Islam -- and Themselves. A great interview with a thoughtful man, and a must read!
  2. Drs. Eric and Rachel McLaughlin, an internist and OBGYN, respectively, at Kibuye Hope Hospital in the impoverished East African nation of Burundi. You'll find their work and their words inspiring.
  3. From the land of New Zealand, our dear friends Neil and Jill White are given the chance to brag on their fair country, where Becky and I enjoyed an unforgettable visit a couple of years ago. You should save your money (or miles, as we did) and go -- and stay at the Whites' Air Bnb!
  4. Author, entrepreneur and adventurer Chris Guillebeau talks about his quest to visit every country on the planet. Chris shares about lessons learned in all his travels, and he also has a lot to teach us about thinking outside the box -- entrepreneurially!
  5. Author and speaker Sarah Lanier is a long-time friend and former colleague who has a wealth of knowledge and experience to share in the area of cross-cultural dynamics and communication. In this interview we discuss her book, Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot- and Cold-Climate Cultures. Don't let the title intimidate you -- this is a short but powerful read, where Sarah leads us into a greater understanding of the basic cultural differences between people groups and the importance of this understanding. A must read -- in fact, it's required reading for our Global Studies students!
  6. If you haven't already, you'll fall in love with Eleni Melirrytou, of Athens, Greece. Nowhere is there a bigger heart to serve the displaced people of this world; they have come by the hundreds through the doors of her downtown Athens church, been fed by her, loved by her, changed by her. Her testimonial will stretch the corners of your heart and challenge your thinking about the worldwide refugee crisis -- and perhaps the refugees in your own city.
  7. Number seven comes from our series on American subcultures. Bill Moser was a successful architect living in an upscale suburb of Detroit when he met some people who changed the course of his life. Bill and his wife became Amish. The radical change in his belief system and, consequently, lifestyle is nothing short of fascinating, as told through his childhood friend, Jeff Smith, in the book Becoming Amish.

We could go on and talk about the next seven, and the next...but we'll let you discover those for yourself.

Thank you to those of you who have been faithful listeners over this exciting first year! We realize what a privilege it is to be "in your ears" every week!

The Last Three Feet

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The world of international affairs is often seen as a shadowy one, full of intrigue, cloak-and-dagger, and posturing. Perhaps this is not far from the truth. One thing is certain: the larger the country, the more personnel is needed to staff the countless embassies, consulates, and other outposts who represent their country. A student of my wife's and mine recently gave an excellent report on American diplomacy and enlightened us on many aspects of this complex realm. The United States, at any given time, has approximately 15,000 personnel employed by the Department of State around the world, including at its 250 embassies.

Of the 15,000 to 25,000 who go through the battery of tests and applications for foreign service positions, only about 3%-5% make it all the way through to a salaried post.

In a high tech world of instant communication, is it really necessary to have all those people scattered across the globe? Perhaps there are some superfluous positions, and there is no doubt wasteful spending here and there. But as the late Edward R. Murrow, the great broadcast journalist who later became head of the US Information Agency said,

"...the real crucial link in the international exchange is the last three feet, which is bridged by personal contact -- one person talking to another."

And so it has always been, and so it will always be.

The Many Benefits of Study Abroad

World to the Wise Podcast

Study abroad is not a new concept, but it's possible that it has never been more important than now. In an age of polarization, stereotypes, and circle-the-wagons mentality, there would be very few college students I would NOT advise to spend at least a semester studying abroad. In this week's podcast episode, we speak with two exchange students to get perspective from both sides of the Atlantic: first, an American student currently studying in Paris. Hannah Kersey tells us what she loves about studying and living in the City of Lights, as well as all the other perks of living in Europe, such as weekend travel.

Then we speak with French law student Lena Touchard, who spent an entire school year studying at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. She now studies law at the University of Leicester in the UK. I think you'll enjoy her reflections on her time in the States, as well as on the things she has learned about herself as a result of her study abroad experience.

If you're a student -- or know a student -- who might be interested in finding out the countless benefits of study abroad, just leave your email address below and we'll send you a list of resources to get you started.

Confessions of a Humanitarian Worker

World to the Wise Podcast

From Nashville to Los Angeles to the Amazon to Brussels to South Sudan. Such is the journey — thus far — of humanitarian worker Corrie Cron, who sat down with me to talk about her experiences in each of these places.

As Corrie herself says, she’s a straight shooter, and she gets very honest about the challenges as well as the joys of her chosen path. Because of the sensitive nature of her work in South Sudan, the world’s youngest country currently embroiled in civil war, she wasn’t able to go into much detail about the work itself; but she speaks candidly about being thrown in the deep end and the challenges of daily life in Juba, the South Sudanese capital. You’ll also hear her talk about how travel has changed her life, and finally, some advice to young people considering a career in humanitarian work.

I hope you enjoy the interview…

Interested in continued stories of crossing cultural bridges? Why not consider becoming a Patron of the World to the Wise podcast? Find out how below.

Do You Have "Ubuntu"?

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of Africa’s great leaders and known as the “conscience of South Africa,” said the following about ubuntu:

World to the Wise Podcast

“Ubuntu [...] speaks of the very essence of being human. [We] say [...] 'Hey, so-and-so has ubuntu.' Then you are generous, you are hospitable, you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have. It is to say, 'My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.' We belong in a bundle of life. We say, 'A person is a person through other persons.'" Kind of flies in the face of individualistic American culture, that’s for sure. After hearing today's guest, I think you'll better understand why that open-source computer operating system was given that name.

Today we talk ubuntu and other things African with Dr. Lloyd Mulenga, who, along with his wife, Priscilla, practices medicine in the Zambian capital of Lusaka. Dr. Mulenga talks about the challenges facing 21st century medicine in southern Africa, as well as a couple of his observations of American culture as a frequent visitor. I hope you enjoy listening to him as much as I enjoyed speaking with him.

A Mexican, a Gringa and Six Children

Imagine you’re a single, white, American woman with a big heart to serve.

World to the Wise Podcast

Imagine you’re a single Mexican man with an equally big heart, and you’ve been designated to meet said American woman at the airport in Mexico as the two of you are destined to work together serving the poor.

This is the story of Martin and Karen Arroyo, who now, 26 years later, are the parents of six children, and have spent their lives serving the poorest of the poor — first in the metropolis of Mexico City, and more recently in the city of Juxtlahuaca, in the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. We’ll hear them share from their hearts about the challenges of being a bi-cultural couple, about raising their family in some tough conditions in Mexico, and how racism is not just an American problem. And yet through it all they continue to serve, love, and inspire wherever they are. I hope you enjoy their story…

You'll hear Karen mention a book: Distant Neighbors: A Portrait of the Mexicans, which you'll find here:

Diary of a Syrian Refugee

World to the Wise Podcast

When my wife Becky and I were in Europe last summer, we followed the story of a number of the refugees we met in Greece, to Germany, where many of them had loved ones waiting for them. One of these was a young Syrian woman, who is engaged to a young man we befriended in Athens. We set out to visit her and arrived at the refugee center, a simple but clean apartment complex in the Berlin suburbs, and a pleasant looking man in his thirties came to greet us in the lobby. He turned out to be the young lady’s uncle, and was the only member of the family who spoke English.

We spent the next two hours visiting with both of them, and were joined about halfway through by her parents. Their hospitable and kind spirit was exactly what we had experienced in Greece in the camps. And when we left, I felt a strong connection especially with our interpreter, whom we’ll call Ali in this podcast, and had the impression that if I ever decided to get serious about learning Arabic, he would be a great teacher or mentor.

Well, it finally happened. Ali and I are now having weekly Skype conversations where he is answering all my questions that come up in my self-study. But I also asked Ali if he would be willing to let me interview him for this podcast. I had never heard his story of escape from Syria, where he would face almost certain death if he were to return now. I’d like to share with you here the unedited testimony of one Syrian who represents the hundreds of thousands who have fled their homeland in one of the greatest mass migrations of our time....

In our last Skype conversation, Ali told me he had just passed a round of German exams and is on to the next level. He hopes to eventually get a full time job, but is grateful for his part time job at the concert hall for now, as he carves out his new life in Germany.

The Happiest Nation on Earth

World to the Wise Podcast

The country of Denmark has topped the World Happiness Report every year except one since 2012. While we could debate about what kinds of definitions and metrics are used to measure something as intangible as happiness, it is nonetheless a noteworthy distinction. So what makes Danes so happy? This is one of several questions we put to this week's guest, Jens DuPont, an independent business consultant who takes great joy in helping companies learn to think more creatively. It turns out that creativity is apparently in his genes; as you'll hear, Denmark has gone to great lengths to encourage and foster creativity in just about every sphere of life.

We also talked about an important word in the Danish vocabulary: hygge (pron. hu-geh). You'll have to listen to find out what it means and why it is so important in Danish culture.

You'll hear a book mentioned: The Year of Living Danishly, which you can check out here:

I hope you enjoy meeting Jens!

A Lesson Learned on Bias

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Many years ago in Switzerland I had a voice student named Catherine. Catherine taught me something I've never forgotten, although it will take me a lifetime to fully put it into practice. A little background: as you may know, Switzerland is composed of three main regions. By far the largest is the German-speaking area in the north, center, and east. There is a small Italian-speaking region bordering Italy in the south, and the French-speaking region, where I lived for a total of six years, in the southwest.

The French speakers, whom I of course am the most acquainted with, have a bit of an attitude toward the German speakers. They detest the Swiss German language (there are dozens of different dialects, all of which sound different from the High German spoken in Germany), and for the most part would rather speak English with a German-speaking Swiss. There are of course exceptions, as many French speakers have Swiss German ancestry or relatives. (Personally, I love the sing-song lilt of Swiss German, but I'm not Swiss.)

Catherine is a French speaker, born and raised in the Lausanne area. So what is the lesson she taught me? At some point she realized she harbored some of the bias against German speakers common among her fellow French speakers. She then did something crazy -- she looked for and found a job in Zurich, the largest city in Switzerland, and moved there for a full year just to get to know some German-speaking Swiss personally as well as learn their language.

She turned around and looked her prejudice in the face.

And of course Catherine came home having made some dear friends and with a genuine appreciation for these people who, after all, are her compatriots.

All because she did the difficult work of facing herself. And once she had identified the problem, she took tangible steps to do something about it.

This continues to challenge me. You may think I'm bias-free because of what I preach. The truth is that we all have biases, and there is never a lack of work to be done in overcoming them. So with an occasional "ouch," I often think of Catherine.

I'm not sure she learned all that much from me in the area of singing, but I certainly learned a life-long lesson from her.

Any of this ring true for you?

The New Kurdistan: One Family's Role

World to the Wise Podcast

What would make a successful Iraqi geologist and his physicist wife pull up roots from the city they’ve grown up in, learn a new language, and become humanitarians and educators in a foreign culture — within their own country?

Today we’re speaking with Youssif Matti, an Aramaic Iraqi, who has been living and working in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq for over 25 years. He has seen the region transform into a relatively peaceful and prosperous corner of the Middle East, and the part he has played in that transformation is significant. I hope you enjoy listening to his story.

We apologize for the technical issues toward the end of the interview. Yousif was saying he believes Muslim imams, or clerics, need to do a better job of explaining to the world the difference between their orthodox beliefs and the tenets of radical Islam.

That’s just one of the many challenges Yousif and his family and team members navigate on a regular basis as they serve the Kurdish people.

You can read more about the Classical School of the Medes here. And if you'd like to find out about how you can support their important work, go here.

What You Can't Know About Your Country Until You Leave It

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My wife and I took a brief road trip last weekend. I like road trips except for one thing: I get so sleepy behind the wheel. Enter the audio book. This time we chose a book that had been mentioned by a good friend. Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight takes place in Southern Rhodesia during the time the nation becomes Zimbabwe. Since Becky and I spent two months in Zimbabwe just five years after the war of independence, we were immediately taken back to those life-shaping experiences as we listened. This enabled us to stick with what others might find a bit of a sleepy read.

Author Alexandra Fuller recounts with an incisive style a childhood reminiscent of the American West, where tough, white pioneers make a life for themselves amid punishing conditions in a tumultuous time and no shortage of adversaries. Hers wasn't an easy childhood. But one thing jumped out at both Becky and me at the same time: when Alexandra left Africa for England for the first time, she realized there were certain things she couldn't know about Zimbabwe until she left. So true.

There are things you can't know about your home country until you leave it.

In my case:

You can't know people in the South really are friendly, for the most part, until you've lived somewhere else. (A friend from New Jersey pointed this out to me.)

You can't know there is more than one way to do things, like flush a toilet. Or dry your clothes.

You can't know everyone doesn't have a choice of 78 breakfast cereals at the supermarket.

You can't know that you live in a country where way too much is taken for granted, as if we deserved everything we have.

You can't know that, in spite of all the pettiness, the infantile political wrangling and the frenzied climate, we still have a system that has been one of the most spectacular success stories in history...

You can't know you live in a place the world envies, and marvels at, and sometimes shakes it head at, but pays attention to ...

...until you've left.

Then you come back and everything is the same -- except the way you see it.

Stereotypical Stereotypes

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I was at a symposium last night on Russian-American relations moving from the Obama years into the Trump era. While most of Dr. Mark Katz's remarks and the questions asked of him centered on Trump and Putin's relationship and speculation about what that might look like moving forward, one question was asked that got me thinking about stereotypes. The question was something to the effect of, "How fair is it for Americans and other Westerners to believe that Putin's strong man persona is representative of the Russian people and culture?" The question put its finger on a common and universal tendency: to assume that everyone in a given group or culture is the same. We would of course deny that we think in such base and ignorant terms, but most of us are guilty of this at one time or another.

In the case of Vladimir Putin, we might think that most all Russians only understand the language of power and force, as Putin's MO is widely believed to be. And it is true that there are many Russians who are glad to have a leader who stands up to the West and is committed to restoring Mother Russia to her former glory.

But there are probably just as many Russians who would like a "kinder and gentler" leader who doesn't enjoy provoking the West and suppressing dissent. The few Russians I know personally are kind, caring people who have mixed feelings about their president -- like most of the world feels about its leaders. Some will point out that Putin is a vast improvement over his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin.

We could think of other examples of stereotypes. Are all Germans super organized and efficient, with a hard exterior? Nope.

Are all Japanese workaholics? Nope. Not quite!

Are all Australians laid back? I don't think so, but I'm still looking for an uptight Aussie.

Aha. So here we see that there is often a kernel of truth to certain stereotypes. There is usually a reason why they were formed in the first place. The truth is that stereotypes can at times be useful, up to a point. If I were putting together an international team, I wouldn't be wrong to go to Switzerland or Germany to look for an administrative type, for example. International marketing firms will tell you that stereotypes based on studies and market research prove invaluable in their marketing strategies.

But stereotypes can just as often get us into trouble. Chances are, as soon as we allow the stereotype to take shape in our minds, one or more exceptions will present themselves.

In the current dialogue in the US about race, this is particularly dicey. It's a little too easy to assume all members of a certain race feel or behave the same way (racial profiling comes to mind). Polls and surveys and market research may help, but true understanding won't come until we sit down and listen to each other.

I'm going to have just such an opportunity on Jan 27, when I have been invited to moderate a round table discussion on the current state of race relations in the US, including in the American church. If you're in the Nashville area, we'd love for you to join us. Details here.

How to Turn a Vacation into a Pilgrimage

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What comes to mind when you hear the word "pilgrimage"? Trekking your way over rugged terrain to reach a shrine? Traveling thousands of miles to meet up with thousands of other pilgrims at a particular time of year? Perhaps. But what if any time you stepped out of your zone of familiarity could become a spiritual experience? Here are some real life examples:

Happening onto a painting at the Musée d'Orsay that touches something buried deep inside you and leaves you filled and wanting more at the same time.

Wandering the streets of a medieval Italian town and stumbling across a secluded garden that feels like it was reserved for you.

Coming across a serene, blue glacier in the most utter silence you've ever heard, with not another soul in sight.

Sitting surrounded by the world's most beautiful stained glass and wishing you could know the king who commissioned it as an act of worship.

Sitting at a table with new friends and wondering how you could possibly have been there for three hours.

Climbing an extinct volcano in New Zealand and appreciating the challenge of the climb as much as the vistas from the summit.

A conversation with a stranger whose kindness cuts through the outer crust of your heart. You come to find out that part of his name means "peace".

Marveling at the mysteries of a lost civilization that left behind the glorious ruins where you now stand.

Being invited to share the meager rations of a refugee family who has lost everything, destroying and rebuilding your notions of hospitality and humility.

All of these, which I have experienced first hand, make the term "sightseeing" sound so mundane, so small. When you step outside to experience something or some place new -- even if it is one of the most touristy spots on the planet -- there are surely divinely orchestrated moments waiting for you.

Especially if you're open to them.

They can be little serendipities, or they can be moments of transcendence that alter your understanding of God.

We're planning a framework for late spring where such moments are sure to find you. All you have to do is show up.

Want to know more? Click here.

Announcing the 2017 World to the Wise Cultural Tour

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Eiffel jump

My wife, Becky, and I started a company around 2010 called World to the Wise. The mission statement of the organization is to promote and foster cultural curiosity by exposing people to other cultures and perspectives. This includes not only telling compelling stories, but taking people to other places! Summer of 2010 saw our first World to the Wise cultural tour, where we visited the UK, France, and the Netherlands. Since then, we have conducted two more tours to Italy, France, and the UK. We keep the groups relatively small in order to maximize the experience. Public transportation is used wherever possible in order to give our participants a feel for everyday life in the respective places. And wherever possible, we introduce our American friends to our local European friends. We believe that our perspective is impacted as we broaden our horizons and look at life from someone else's point of view.

This year's tour will be similar to the 2015 tour, with the addition of a couple of days in Amsterdam between Paris and London. The best way to stay informed is to sign up on the form at the bottom of this page.  We won't wear out your inbox, but you WILL be the first to hear about future life-changing cultural tours!

Read about our last tour here, and check out the World to the Wise Facebook page!

Download the information/registration packet here: Info-reg. packet 2017

To secure a spot on the tour, all we need from you is the registration form (see packet) filled out and sent in with your $100 registration fee. The timeline and checklist for the rest are included in the info packet.

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Purpose: to broaden our perspective and deepen our understanding of the world we live in by discovering the peoples, cultures and histories of other lands. Dates: Italy May 31-June 8 (depart US on Tuesday, May 30) Paris June 8-13 (*depart US on Friday, June 7) Amsterdam June 13-17 (*depart US on Wednesday, June 12) * and London June 17-21. It is an option to join us for individual locations except Amsterdam. We will begin in Rome and end up in London. We promise you won’t forget this trek through four of the most enchanting countries in Europe! (NOTE: There is a minimum of 10 participants needed for each leg of the tour to make. As of this writing, Italy and Paris are happening for sure; Amsterdam and London still to be confirmed.)

ITALY – Who hasn’t dreamed of roaming the Tuscan countryside, marveling at Michelangelo’s David, the famous Duomo (cathedral) and the other treasures of Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance? Or relaxing on a Roman terrazzo, imagining the days of the gladiators while standing in the Coliseum, and gazing up at the Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel? Or sampling a different gelato flavor every day? Or making such fast friends with our Italian friends that you won’t want to leave? Eight days in Italy.

PARIS – Often called the Pearl of Europe and the City of Lights, this gem has probably inspired more songs and literature than any other city. Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, Montmartre with its sidewalk artists, the Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysées…not to mention the obligatory sidewalk cafés, croissants, pastries, baguettes, cheese… (Oops, got a little side-tracked there.…) We’ll include a day trip to Monet’s gardens in Giverny. And we’ll enjoy a meal with some Parisians who might surprise you with their openness and friendliness! Four full days in Paris plus a travel day.

AMSTERDAM -- One of the most charming cities in all of Europe, Amsterdam has a character all its own. Take a boat ride on the city’s intricate canal system while admiring the quaint elegance of the 17th and 18th century houses. Visit the home of the intrepid Anne Frank or take in the works of Vincent van Gogh or the renowned Dutch Masters. Then get away from the city on a bike ride through the polders, the land famously reclaimed from the sea by Dutch ingenuity. And discover the meaning of “gezelligheid” or coziness to the max. Three nights in Amsterdam.

LONDON – Many Americans have the feeling of coming home when they discover this land that is the mother country to many of our ancestors. Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Globe Theatre, the Tube, the River Thames, cream tea, shortbread, meat pies, homes of some of English literature’s greats, and an unforgettable day trip to Oxford, including a meal at the pub where Lewis, Tolkien and the other Inklings spent so many hours! Four full days plus a travel day.

Just download the registration packet here. A $100 registration fee will save your spot until the $600 deposit is due Feb. 24. All details can be found in the registration packet. All you need to do at first is fill out the registration form in the packet and send it in with your registration fee. The liability release form, etc. can wait until your trip has been confirmed.

Not sure but wanting to receive updates? Just leave us your email address in the form below!

Questions? Email us at admin@worldtothewise.net.

Europe here we come!

Cultivating Curiosity

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We are all born curious. Show me a baby who isn't drawn to shiny objects or who doesn't believe everything is intended to be put in the mouth. Then the baby becomes a toddler and all of a sudden the entire house has to be childproofed. Everything at eye level is fair game to be explored and often dismantled.

As a young child, I was a voracious reader. We were living in Australia, where, at least at the time, there was no kindergarten like we have in the US, and children started right into Grade 1 at the age of five. I was already reading when I started school in Perth, and I remember my teachers scrambling to keep me stocked with books. Seems I couldn't get enough.

As I've written and spoken about before, we moved back to the US halfway through my fourth grade year, and on the return trip my senses were assaulted by the sights and sounds of exotic lands and foreign tongues. Once again, I couldn't get enough.

Then something happened.

The thing is, I don't know what. Somewhere along the line -- perhaps it was puberty -- I lost my love of reading and the curiosity behind that love. Up to that point I remember loving to read about all kinds of things -- I was simply interested in the world and everything in it.

By my high school years my interests had narrowed to two main areas: music and foreign languages. I excelled in all my subjects, but some of them didn't require that much effort. I was indeed hungry to make progress in my two chosen areas, but I don't remember deriving much satisfaction from anything else.

I'm sorry to say my college years were not much different. Music and foreign languages still dominated my brain space (foreign language eventually gained the upper hand) -- along with an overactive social life.

I was well into my years living in Europe that I began to really notice things. To pay attention to a broader array of areas, such as world events and how they affect each other. Or how math and science cannot be entirely separated from, say, music or philosophy, or even theology. In fact, this growing sense that all things are somehow connected has become a driving force in (re)shaping my world view. And my fascination with how other cultures live and think plays right into this.

In this season of my life, I consider it not only an important aspect of my life, but a calling, to somehow create sparks that trigger curiosity in others -- especially curiosity about people from cultures or experiences unlike ours.

Regardless of your political persuasion or the outcome of the 2016 US elections, we all must admit that, now, more than ever, we are in great need of regaining and fostering cultural curiosity. Just as I allowed my mind to become dulled by who knows what -- teenage preoccupations, then too many college friends (yes, I think that's possible), we can as adults allow ourselves to be lulled to sleep by the familiar. Falling asleep in our own echo chamber.

Is it possible to make someone curious? Perhaps, perhaps not. But just as a parent provides toys, activities and games that appeal to the innate curiosity of a child, we can most certainly make things available to whet the imagination of those who are asleep...while continually feeding the imagination of those who are curious.

Season 2 of the World to the Wise podcast aims to do just that. Stay tuned! If you're already a subscriber, we would appreciate your taking a minute to write a brief review.

What adventures has your curiosity led you to?

Book Review: Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy cover
Hillbilly Elegy cover

In my last post, I mentioned being impacted by J. D. Vance's powerful and tragic book, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. My wife and I actually read it together -- sort of. I read aloud to her while she crocheted -- a favorite pastime of ours. Although Vance calls the book a memoir, he admits from the start that he's not old enough to call anything he writes by that name. The term 'elegy', a song of lament or mourning, was a harbinger of the emotion I was left with after reading the book. Vance, a Yale Law School graduate now practicing in Cincinnati, seems ambivalent throughout the book toward the subculture in which he grew up in Eastern Kentucky and Western Ohio. On the one hand, he is not afraid to call out the tragic flaws and shortcomings of what he unabashedly calls hillbilly culture; on the other, he is not ashamed to identify with them still today, using the pronoun "we" when referring to them, even though he himself has risen out of the struggling socioeconomic conditions he came up through.

The childhood Vance describes growing up in Kentucky does nothing to debunk the stereotypes most people have about Appalachia: much of it sounded like it could have been lifted right out of the Hatfields and McCoys. The towering figure in his life was his maternal grandmother, Mamaw, who was largely responsible for raising him in the frequent absence of his drug-addicted mother. The young J.D. lived in a constant state of instability, unsure when his mother would freak out, divorce her current husband and marry another, or come back begging for forgiveness -- or money.

When J.D. was a young teenager, he moved with his mother, sister, and grandparents to Middletown, Ohio, where it turns out thousands of other Eastern Kentuckians have ended up since the Appalachian coal mines began their demise. Even though Middletown was a larger town than his native Jackson, KY, there were so many transplanted Kentucky hillbillies and working class folks that his world view was hardly challenged. Because of all the unrest at home, J. D. almost flunked out of high school, but he somehow managed to graduate and, deciding he wasn't yet ready for college, enlisted in the Marines.

According to Vance himself, the Marines were the best thing that ever happened to him. He credits his two years with them with much of his later success, not to mention self-esteem and a host of other qualities. But the highest praise goes to Mamaw, his foul-mouthed, church-going, rough-and-tumble grandmother who never ceased to remind him that he could do and be whatever he wanted to, as long as he worked hard (a creed she apparently found easier to preach than practice).

The fact that J. D. Vance was able to graduate from college, let alone attend and succeed at one of the most prestigious law schools in the world, is nothing short of miraculous, given the many factors working against him. That story in itself would make for compelling reading. But his vivid and at times painful depiction of his family's dynamics and the culture they hailed from is an important window into a pretty broad swath of the American population. He places the shortage of well-paying jobs right alongside a streak of laziness and tendency to blame the government for what ails them. With the shrinkage of the white American majority and the changing demographic of the America they knew, he portrays a people whose religion is patriotism. But the America they once knew and loved seems to be slipping through their fingers.

I wish I could say I came away from this book with a new ability to relate to this piece of the American patchwork; I must say it left me as perplexed as before. What it did do is paint a powerful picture of a people group that, like it or not, makes up a substantial portion of the US population and, as it turns out, the electorate.

So, happy ending? Not so much. Only inasmuch as Vance himself reminds us, through his life experiences and personal successes, of what his Mamaw and Papaw taught him:

"Whenever times were tough— when I felt overwhelmed by the drama and the tumult of my youth— I knew that better days were ahead because I lived in a country that allowed me to make the good choices that others hadn’t."

That country is in desperate need of healing right now, and if it's going to happen, we must continue to seek to understand -- perhaps through reading about real people and real experiences as in this book -- but better yet, by engaging the very people we don't understand. Ah, there's the challenge.