For Release October 1, 2002

Lasting Impacts of an Overseas Trip

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

Six months ago today, I left the USA to spend a month in West Africa. Prior to my departure, I visited with a friend who has spent considerable time in West Africa. One of his first comments in our discussion was that spending a month in West Africa would change me forever. I hoped he meant that the change would be in a positive manner, and in retrospect it was.

My friend also advised me, upon my return, to periodically set aside some time to think about my trip and the impacts that it has made on me. So I guess you can call this my six month checkup! Some of these comments may sting a little bit. But maybe that isn’t so bad. They were, at times, rather startling and blunt revelations to me as well.

America/Americans are very ignorant of the rest of the world and very self centered. If I were to walk up to fifty people today and ask them what they knew about Senegal, a few would probably mention the ferry sinking disaster from last week. A few others might mention the fact that Senegal was in the soccer World Cup competition with the United States. But I would be willing to bet that most of the rest of the people I encounter wouldn’t be able to tell me anything about the country, let alone where it is located.

As a country, we stay very focused on ourselves. Heck, we don’t even know a lot about our own state or our own country, let alone much about the 160+ countries around the world and the 50+ countries of the African continent. By the way, do you know how many countries there are in North America? We concentrate, thanks to the entertainment and news industries, virtually on ourselves. In the global scheme of things we are a small proportion of the world’s population, yet vast consumers of the global resources. The people I met in Senegal knew much more about the United States than I did of their country!

In the US we are all driven by the clock. The clock becomes more important than anything else, even more important than friends or family. If you don’t think so, just watch yourself over the next week and see how tense you get if an event starts a few minutes late or if someone is late for an appointment or if your 2:00 dentists appointment doesn’t get started until 2:15. How many times have you stopped a friend, or family member, during a conversation, because you had to go someplace? Being a very schedule oriented person, this was a hard thing for me to adjust to. A banquet that had an 8 pm starting time had the first course of the meal served after 10 pm! I think our country would do well to put people before clocks!

What keeps coming back to me, as I observe life around me back here in Kansas, is how good WE have it, and how spoiled WE have become, as a society. WE expect perfection in everyone, except ourselves. WE are more important than anybody else. If we walk up to an ATM machine and it isn’t working, you’d think it was the end of the world by our reactions. Yet we felt lucky to have one ATM machine, out of three, working in Senegal when we wanted some cash. It was accepted that the ATM machines would often not be working.

No, I do not prefer living in Senegal over Kansas. I, too, like the conveniences of our way of life. But I think the opportunity to put it all in perspective truly was a life altering experience. I think, however, we could all benefit by slowing down a little, paying more attention to the people around us, and maybe appreciating all that we have every day. But I can talk more about that on Thanksgiving week!


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