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Steves expresses value of international experience

Joe Piarulli | Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Rick Steves, PBS personality and syndicated columnist, has literally made the world his classroom, playing the roles of both student and teacher. He assumed the latter Tuesday in front of a large group of students and community members in the Jordan Auditorium.

University President Father John Jenkins introduced Steves, his brother-in-law, as a man who “made his passion and joy his work,” and does so in a morally responsible way. “The Value of Travel in Shaping a Global Perspective” was Steves’ second lecture of the week, the first held on Monday in McKenna Hall.

Before describing his travel experiences, Steves explained his own global perspective, especially with regard to politics.

“If it does take courage to speak out on something, that’s all the more reason to speak out on it,” he said. “As a society, we face some major challenges.”

Steves said he believes the greatest risks to America are from the inside. As individuals, he said, we have a responsibility to try and do what’s right.

“I don’t believe there are innocent civilians,” he said.

Steves spoke his mind on issues that he said are “healthy to address and fun to address,” including military power and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which he said should not discourage people from traveling.

Travel, Steves said, was an important part of what shaped his understanding of the world.

Steves first traveled to Europe with his family when he was 14-years-old. Initially skeptical of the idea, he soon embraced the experience and has traveled ever since.

“The quality of the travel experience can change you,” he said.

Travel can provide completely new interpretations of the past and of cultures, according to Steves.

“History becomes a living thing,” he said.

One aspect of travel Steves described as “fundamental” was the opportunity to meet a wide variety of individuals.

“I meet more people in a month in Europe than I do in a year at home,” he said.

Steves said he enjoys how travel “messes up” his ethnocentricity. All over the world, heroic struggles are taking place, he said, and it would be dangerous for us to be mindless producers and consumers.

A man who has traveled from France to India to Japan, Steves celebrates diversity and encourages others to do the same.

Traveling, he said, has let him see the vast divisions between rich and poor, how other people view America and how they view government in general.

Some people, he said, feel steamrolled by McDonald’s and Western values, but that does not mean they dislike Americans.

Steves said he supports Notre Dame’s foreign study programs and the valuable, spontaneous experiences they can provide.

“This world is so surprising,” he said.