I stood there staring. City roads of dirt with curbs. People riding bikes. Exactly the same bike. Dusk. A vibrant, typical, uneventful evening in Guilin, China. 1988. I was 15. My mind ablaze with curiosity. I must’ve looked hilarious as I stood there, alone, in my USA tracksuit we’d gotten for the trip. A kind-faced old man’s smile beckoned me to his street cart on the other side of the street. There was an umbrella overhead, and some sort of grinding machine mounted on a metal box before him. Several people stood in line. I was supposed to be in my room. Room check was at 9:00 PM. It was 9:25. As I came closer, I noticed several people began to smile and glance at one another. I hid none of my ignorance. They were all sharing the same cup. The same process repeated for each person in line. A foot-long stalk was inserted into the grinder. The man cranked the handle. The stalk emerged from other sided flattened, as water-like juice filled the cup below. The cup was handed to the first person in line. The person drank it down. Repeat. The third time through, the man handed me the cup. I had not been in line. I was just standing there frozen. I sniffed the cup. I took a sip, then drank it down. It was the sweetest thing I have ever tasted. Only later would I realize what it was. Pure cane sugar juice, freshly squeezed straight from the sugarcane plant itself.
That night was a transition point in my life. I had never seen such a thing. There was something special about experiencing it alone, too. Just me. Thousands of miles from Cleveland, Ohio. Completely lost in the difference—the difference between where I was from, and all that surrounded me. My curiosity to explore has never abated. Explore the world. Find out what is out there, and what is inside me. The search for meaning and understanding burns in me to this day.
I am a graduate of Duke University where I studied Public Policy Studies and History. My classmates were the sons and daughters of influential people in the United States. Their perspectives taught me so much. I was a middle-class kid on an athletic scholarship playing for the men’s soccer team. Durham, North Carolina is a peculiar place. The contrasting influences of history upon it give it a flavor that is palpable. If you’ve never been, you should go.
I teach Economics because it fascinates me. Because it is the study of human behavior. Economics isn’t about data and graphs and problem sets. It is the study of people and their story and their history and the forces of society that we are born into. It provides us with an understanding of ourselves. It is not hyperbole to say that a thorough understanding of economics enables us to better understand the human condition. I truly believe that.
I currently teach IB Economics and Theory of Knowledge at the International School Nido de Aguilas in Santiago, Chile. Prior to moving here I taught and served as high school principal at the American School of Nicaragua for four years. I began my teaching career in 2002 at the Atlanta Girls’ School in the United States.
I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the central mountains of the Dominican Republic for two years. Los Marranitos was the name of the community. 120 people. 25 homes. No lights. No water. Almost no one over the age of forty could read. They were my neighbors and friends. I was what they called a “water volunteer.” Along with the members of the community, we constructed an 5 mile-long gravity flow aqueduct that brought water to homes for the first time. It took two years. That’s the easy part to explain.
More difficult to articulate is how deeply it changed me. Those two years challenged me in every way—physically, emotionally, spiritually, linguistically, culturally. But what I took with me litters my thoughts daily. It showed me that education is the fundamental determinant of human opportunity. It shaped the way I see humanity and sculpted my view of the value of love and kindness and friendship and generosity and the importance and power of a simple smile.
Traveling fills our souls. Teaches us about ourselves. Who we are. Where we come from. By educating ourselves about others, we see ourselves more clearly.
If you are one of the lucky ones who can afford to get on a plane or a train or a bus and explore, grab your backpack and go! I have been that lucky. My journey has taken me to 55 countries on this beautiful earth, and with each step, I have been challenged to reconsider what I once thought was known, simple, and clear.