‘The most beautiful souvenir’: Travel author Rick Steves inspires MTSU students to broaden perspectives

Photos and story by Angele Latham / Contributing Writer

“Who are the most fearful people? (Those) with passports, or without?”

These pointed words – met with a round of applause – came from none other than Rick Steves, an award-winning travel author, activist and television host as he spoke at the MTSU Student Union Ballroom on Thursday.

The event, sponsored by MTSU’s Department of Global Studies and Human Geography, was based on his new book, “Travel as a Political Act,” and focused on the importance of a diversified perspective in an increasingly interconnected world.

“I thought the most important thing about travel is to get out of your comfort zone, hang out with people who find different truths to be self evident and god-given, gain an empathy for the other 96 percent of humanity and come home with the most beautiful souvenir – and that is a broader perspective,” Steves said. “That is what I call travel as a political act. And we need that now more than ever.”

Steves, who had just returned from a trip to both Ethiopia and Guatemala, saw first hand the poverty that constricts people of various cultures and the level of misconception that comes right along with it. Images of his travels, showing the beautiful, the heartbreaking and the utterly poignant helped illustrate his message that focused strongly on the dire need to rise above fear fostered by a sheltered life.

“If your whole perspective is shaped by commercial fear-mongering media, then you’re scared,” Steves said. “And if you’re a traveler, you’re not scared. You’re enthusiastic about it. Fear is dangerous. There are powerful forces in our society that are using fear against us to have their way with us. Fear is for people who don’t get out very much … The flip side of fear is understanding. You gain understanding when you travel, and you lose understanding when you let someone else shape your worldview. As young future leaders, I hope you can take that to heart.

One student who definitely plans to take this advice to heart is Ben Yost, a junior in the human geography program and president of the newly formed Geography Club at MTSU.

“I went to go hear Rick Steves because I think his work embodies a lot of what we hope the Geography Club can be about,” Yost said. “When we go places, we need to understand not only the impact that it has on us, but then the following impact we have on our destination and other places. And just (understand) the general mindsets of us, our families, our kids and our culture.”

Yost hopes to encourage more students to take an interest in human geography. And since the human geography major itself has only recently been named its own program, Yost hopes inspirational figures like Steves will help students understand the importance of such a field in modern society.

“Human geography affects everything (we) do, no matter who (you) are or what (you) are studying, human geography is a huge aspect of that,” Yost said. “And if you study those processes, you can come to a better understanding of why you are the way you are and why people are the way they are. What we study in human geography affects everything about us. And if you understand that, it can enrich your whole life and your career.”

For some students, this subject has already enriched their lives. Ellie Carpenter, a graduate student at MTSU, came to the speech already clutching Steve’s new book in her hands -albeit a copy that was already well-read and well-loved. She excitedly explained that for her, this was more than just a lecture. This was meeting a hero.

Ellie Carpenter, an MTSU grad student, proudly holds her copy of Rick Steves’ book “Travel as a Political Act.” (Angele Latham / MTSU Sidelines)

“I think the message of developing a worldwide empathy has never been more important,” Carpenter said before the speech. “I’m really excited to hear him discuss the positive political power we can claim as travelers and international citizens.”

One last lesson Steves emphasized was the need to have a better understanding for other people’s “baggage,” as well as our own. Watching the world from our own singular perspective, he said, would never allow us to understand what the world looks like for others. Even people we would tend to disagree with -or even in some cases hate- are essentially “good people, riddled with fear and driven by love.” And if that is not something we can understand, then perhaps it is our perspective that needs to change.

To contact News Editor Caleb Revill, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com.

For more news, follow us at www.mtsusidelines.com, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter at @Sidelines_News.

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