Anyone who knows Global Studies Department Director Dr. Rebecca Kuhn, knows her passion for exploring the world. Recently, she spoke with Upper School students in chapel about the impact that travel has had on her life. Read more from Dr. Kuhn below.
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta
When I read the Vestry’s description of the topic, telling our story, the part that most struck me was: “the more we know about one another, the more we will truly understand each other.” This quest to understand humanity is in part what motivates me to pursue one of my life’s greatest joys: travelling. Through my travels, I have met and observed thousands of people whose lives are profoundly different and profoundly similar to mine.
I took my first international trip, to Europe, when I was a junior in high school, and my friends and I, all from the tiny town of Sterling, Kansas, explored Paris, Vienna, Salsburg, Innsbruck, and Milan. On that trip, I saw first hand that people in other countries face many of the same situations that we do in the US, but address them in creative and delightful ways that may strike us as charming, odd, or sometimes scary. It was during this trip my junior year that I saw these differences - and similarities - and knew that I wanted to see as much of the world as I could. I have since been to 22 countries and 41 U.S. states. In 2019, I’ll add at least one more state and 4 more countries, and I can’t wait.
When I travel, I laugh because when I travel life is different. I cherish the expected, like ice with my soft drinks, and celebrate the unexpected, like thinking I have communicated my hotel address to a bus driver and then ending up lost in the middle of Hanoi, Vietnam.
Because I have travelled, I’ve learned that Mexicans treasure their history, both Spanish and Aztec, and have one of the most impressive anthropology museums in the world. I also learned that some doctors in Mexico still make house calls. When I was so sick that I didn’t want to leave my bed, a doctor came to room, forgave me for my broken Spanish, and, with a smile, administered a shot of penicillin that made me feel much better.
Because I have travelled, I know what it’s like to ride a camel and behold the pyramids of Giza. I also know that even though I was tired, it was worth everything to have gotten up early in the morning and hiked to the top of Mount Sinai. From speaking to my Egyptian guide, I came to realize that the story of Moses and this mountain and the burning bush belong to people of many faiths.
Because we lived in South Korea for six years, Dr. Newton and I learned that our Korean friends gave and received SPAM -- the meat, not the email -- as gifts. For Christmas we received gift sets full of SPAM and olive oil -- aren’t you jealous? In Korea, we could be part of a rock band in which we couldn’t understand the lyrics to some of the songs we played. But that didn’t matter, because music truly is a universal language.
Because I have travelled, I know that the Great Wall of China is pretty great even if it wasn’t able to keep the Mongols out. And I’m glad that the Forbidden City is no longer forbidden to visit. I’m grateful to have been in the People’s Republic of China on the day it celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2009. A massive parade was held to honor the contributions and sacrifices that ordinary people - peasants and laborers - made in building modern China. Ironically, this parade was viewed only by Communist party officials and not the peasants and laborers the parade was celebrating. The day after the parade, the floats were open to the public where we were able to view them, too.
Because I’ve spent time in East and Southeast Asia, I learned that a “large” soda in Taiwan is the same size as a “medium” or “small” in the United States. That their Starbucks does not open until 9am or have a Venti and that the Starbucks in Tokyo has more tea on the menu than coffee. I learned that in Vietnam, the Vietnam war is called “the American War.” That Penang, Malaysia, is a model of religious harmony with shrines to folk gods and goddesses, Hindu temples, mosques, and Christian churches all on the same block. I learned that in Japan and Korea, the sidewalks have ridged yellow lines in the middle to help the visually impaired.
Because I’ve travelled, I learned that the responsible visitor does her research. Not every place that claims to protect elephants in Thailand treats them well. Looking after an elephant family is hard work since they are awake most of the day and spend that day eating everything. If this juvenile elephant was not looked after, she would probably eat the roofs off the nearby buildings.
Because I’ve travelled, when I make my seven minute commute to Episcopal, in my mind’s eye I see others around the world braving traffic and squeezing onto subway and metro cars in Toronto, Seoul, Cairo, Buenos Aires, Shanghai, London, and New York.
Because I’ve travelled, I look at a world map differently and I know you will, too. So when you get the chance to go, please “go”. This is not just a plug for you to take part in our wonderful Episcopal exchange trips to Chile, France, and Spain. I truly want you to experience what I have: that our world is at the same time enormous and tiny. When we travel, we clarify our identities and better understand the values we and our nation hold dear. Of course, we can learn this from study, but we see it when we travel.
Dr. Rebecca Kuhn, Global and Social Studies Director, Exchange Program Coordinator, and AP Psychology teacher, has taught social studies classes at Episcopal since 2016 including AP World History, World History, US History, and US Government. Prior to moving to Baton Rouge, she lived and taught high school in South Korea and South Florida. She holds degrees from Sterling College, The University of Kansas, and Florida Atlantic University. Dr. Kuhn enjoys travelling, reading, and singing. She is married to Dr. Alan Newton.