Syracuse University Magazine

An Unfolding World

So often what’s routine and familiar to us can corrode the senses. We hit automatic pilot and continue with our day. What’s new? Nothing. Same old same old. But that’s when it’s important to challenge ourselves and toss in a few diversions—taking an extra moment outdoors to listen to a mysterious bird and identify it, turning down that often passed-by side road to see a new landscape, opening a long-overlooked book to send the mind on an adventure.

Beyond the scope of minor detours to our daily routines, exploring a new destination is a good option to shake up the familiar, especially when getting there is usually an undertaking in itself. It’s always fascinating to step into an unknown world and see where it takes you. While we can conjure up distant locales before our eyes with a few keystrokes these days, there’s nothing like being there, wherever there may be. For SU Abroad students, as you’ll learn in “Toward a Global Imagination,” opportunities to explore the world abound. They navigate new cultures, learn history, and delve into current issues. They polish new language skills, sample unfamiliar cuisines, and travel off the beaten paths. They also discover much about themselves and grow as individuals.

Most important, they meet people whose life stories may be significantly different than ones they are accustomed to. It can be difficult, even exasperating, to communicate with a person whose language and customs don’t mirror our own; however, a determined effort to connect, understand, and learn can be rewarding. Pieces of common ground can be shared and built upon, while actions and opinions can illuminate differences that initially may be misunderstood, but can develop into mutual respect and understanding. In discussing how he builds relationships with research subjects, political science professor Yüksel Sezgin, director of the Middle Eastern Studies program, says, “One thing I always tell my students is you have to go out and spend time with people. You have to shake hands, drink tea with them.”

What better way to learn about a person and create a bond—whether a neighbor, a classmate, or a local you meet in a distant town, a world away from home. I recall many times in my travels in which I’ve either been totally intrigued or somewhat skeptical in an encounter with a new face. And in most of those instances, I’ve found myself enjoying the company and learning. Years ago, while traveling in Ireland, I can’t tell you how many engaging conversations I had with folks who picked me up hitchhiking or sat next to me in a bus station or pub. Some invited me into their homes and others just shared their journeys with me. I still remember hopping into a delivery truck and when I told the driver I was headed to Glengarriff, he said, “Aye, the word ’tis longer than the town.”  

When I got there, I realized he wasn’t far off the mark. But like anywhere, it invited exploration. After all, when an unknown world unfolds before you, it’s always worth a look around.

Jay Cox