These days Americans are fretting over who’s going to win the race for the U.S. Presidency. There are all kinds of questions about whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton are fit to be leaders on the world stage.
Those questions permeate the news, television advertising space, social media posts, and, I would guess even office water cooler talk (does anyone really still gather around the water cooler and talk at work any more?)
Time will tell who wins the election and more time will tell if they lead our country well in the international arena.
But an event this weekend reminded me that international affairs is not just a one-sided equation. For any deal to be made between two countries, for any peace to be brokered, it takes all sides. This weekend I learned that there is more that joins the people of many nations than separates them.
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Regular readers of this column know of my involvement in the Rotary Youth Exchange program in which Triangle Rotary clubs host students from other countries. On Sunday, with the support of the Garner Morning Rotary Club, we took eight foreign teenagers out for a rock-climbing expedition at Triangle Rock Club in Morrisville.
Those teens acted much like the teenagers I’ve come to know through my own children. They laughed at each other’s silly antics. Some of them climbed the wall as soon as they hitched up their harnesses. Others balked and had to be cajoled into trying it just once. None of that is all that different than what we might see from American teenagers.
Later in the day, we were talking about a planned trip later this year to Disney World. Some of the students are not going to attend because they want to save their money for other, more expensive, trips later in the year. But they are in the minority.
The cost for those trips will be borne by their natural parents and, like most teenagers who spend their parents’ money, the cost isn’t a consideration for the teens. Just like a small number of American teenagers, though, the impact of the cost to their parents weighed on the mind of a small number of the students. On their own, they made the decision not to go.
Before the day ended, we celebrated birthdays for two of the students – one from Belgium, the other from Argentina. We sang “Happy Birthday” to them – in English, French, Spanish and Portugese. The words were different. The tune was the same.
All around the room, the smiles on the faces of all those foreigners were as genuine as any American celebrating an all-important birthday.
I often think about the students we send overseas from the U.S. to countries around the world. We explain to them before they leave that what they will experience isn’t necessarily bad or good. It’s just different. We encourage them to experience as much as they can while they are away. And, when they return, without fail, they are enamored with the foreign culture from which they’ve just returned and the people they’ve just left behind.
So while we worry about whether Donald Trump is actually going to build a wall or whether Hillary Clinton really cares about the diplomats in the field, I think longer term. I know these teenagers will be the ambassadors and political leaders in this country and abroad in 25 years or so.
And I hope that we can make it that long so we can arrive at the point where we realize other people aren’t necessarily bad or good. They’re just different. We should celebrate that difference and, in doing so, we’d all come to realize there’s a lot more that brings us together than separates us.