Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Best Thing For New Grads :Get Out And See Some Of The World Before The Work-Spend Treadmill

After graduating with my astronomy degree from Univ. of South Florida - Volunteering for Peace Corps was the optimal choice made at that time. It also enabled me to see another part of the world and work there.

Graduating from university in a recession year with any kind of degree other than medical, law or business, is a recipe for letdown and disaster.  In my case, I knew the odds and though I already scored high on my GRE, preferred not to go on to grad school - just yet-  as I was essentially drained and wanted something different. The Peace Corps provided it as well as an opportunity to serve overseas.  As per JFK's immortal words: "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country."

Reading Noah Smith's piece in The Sunday Denver Post, 'Pay For Kids To See The World' (p. 4D) I see he too agrees now is the time to get Americans in the 18-26 age range out of their little cubbyholes.  He asks, for instance, what would be a better alternative than blowing $8b on acquisition costs alone for the F-35 (in fiscal year 2015, on a "plane that doesn't work yet") and he advises

"We give every young American a trip overseas".

He goes on to write:

"Much of the world is clamoring to move to the U.S.. But the problem is more that Americans don't get outside the country enough, Fewer than half of Americans have passports. Few U.S. students study foreign language, and the number seems to be shrinking.

The insularity may have political and social costs. Americans' lack of understanding of the outside world fuels isolationism and could lead to ham-handed foreign policy mistakes. It might make the country less likely to support global initiatives like the fight against global warming."

The last is especially germane given it's likely that most of the knot heads who inveigh against global warming as a genuine threat have done very little global travel. Hence, they've not been exposed to many of its effects, from bleaching (and killing) coral reefs in the Caribbean to receding glaciers in Switzerland and Alaska.

Noah Smith's solution then is to propose a "reverse birthright" program (to Israel's "birthright" program where young Jews around the world are enabled to visit Israel via a subsidy). This would apply to "every American ages 18 to 26 who would get a certain amount of money toward an overseas choice trip of his or her choice."

He suggests $2,000 each but this may well be on the short side, especially if the youngster wants to go off to Katmandu. He figures if 4 million children are born each year in the U.S. this would ultimately come to $8 billion - "about the cost for each F-35". . But again - it's going to cost lots more if it is to be more than a one year, one off. Figure in at least twenty years - plus inflation - starting from next year, and you are likely looking at least at $200 billion. Sounds like a lot, but it's still ten time less than the U.S. has blown in Afghanistan - and I warrant with very little positive effect.

Granted these trips "would be exciting adventures for sure" but in addition "an overseas trip can have a huge impact on a young person". He goes on to aver: "Foreign travel can increase people's understanding of other cultures, open them to business and career ideas and create the sense that the world is a wider place than they had ever realized."

A point I can vouch for, given that in my first Peace Corps tour I visited a number of Caribbean island nations, including Martinique and St. Lucia. Thus I must agree with Smith when he concludes:

"The U.S. population in general is suffering from a decline in geographic mobility, which may be hurting economic dynamism. If that lack of mobility is in any way psychological, overseas trips can help."

Which I can certainly attest to after making no fewer than 13 overseas trips, including to Guyana, Switzerland, Trinidad & Tobago, Bratislava, Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic and Austria as well as Liechtenstein.

Approaching the Pitons in St. Lucia, August, 1972.

Me observing waterfall near volcano in St. Lucia. Aug. 1972. The best time to see some of the world is when you're still young and formulating your impressions of your place on the planet.

Of course, college grads don't have to wait for a reverse birthright program to travel overseas.. They can follow JFK's advice not to look for what their country can do for them (offer them a free trip abroad under Smith's plan) but instead join an organization like the Peace Corps.

They will not only get the chance to see another part of the world, but put their talents to use there and equally important, broaden their once provincial outlooks to a global perspective.


Mike said...

It's not said often enough to you and those like you, who STILL served our country as Peace Corps Volunteers. Allow me, for one, to say to you all...THANK YOU FOR *YOUR* SERVICE!!

Copernicus said...

Thanks, Mike, I really appreciate that!