That is why obtaining a St. Olaf degree requires multicultural studies classes, two years of a foreign language and an unwritten obligation to study abroad.
But why stop there? Global learning goes beyond travels and study. There is a personal responsibility to move beyond academics.
We cannot expect an Interim abroad or a couple of MCS-G credits to qualify us as cultural savants, but we also cannot afford to travel constantly either.
Luckily, we have another resource at our fingertips and it is only as far away as Rolvaag Memorial Library. Therein lies cultural insight at an infinitely cheaper price than traveling abroad free.
Gaining perspective on the issues that concern Middle Eastern people is integral toward understanding the people themselves.
Through invading Iraq and Afghanistan, we have seen the folly of misunderstanding the people of the Middle East. Knowing the problems that they deal with in their everyday lives and the issues that concern them on a personal level before we invaded would have gone a long way toward mediating the problems we have encountered there. But politics aside, here is our recommended reading list for a peek into some very misunderstood (and academically under-represented cultures).
For a quick read, try leafing through The Kite Runner, a popular fiction book by Khaled Hosseini. This New York Times #1 Bestseller tells the story of two best friends growing up in Afghanistan.
Amir is the son of a well-to-do family and Hassan is the son of his father's longtime servant. Hosseini explores their friendship in the context of flying kites, a popular sport for youths that eventually becomes outlawed by the Taliban, allowing us a glimpse into the ethnic and social tensions of the country before the revolution that ended the monarchy and preceded the Russian invasion.
Travel next door to Iran with Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, a graphic novel focusing on a young girl's experience during the Iranian Revolution. Satrapi is the great-granddaughter of one of Iran's last emperors and her perspective is that of an educated elite criticizing the rise of Islamic fundamentalism that swept the country in 1979 issues that continue to this day.
This two-volume graphic novel set was inspired by the execution of Satrapi's uncle, who was convicted of espionage against the Iranian government. It portrays the profound effect that the social tensions had on her politically active family and how it shaped Satrapi into the person she is today.
For a dense but gratifying look inside the world of a mid-20th-century Egyptian family, we must go beyond the alleys of Cairo in The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz.
This Nobel Prize-winning author treats such issues as the British occupation, Islam and society, and the complex social hierarchy of an upper-middleclass Egyptian family. But the strength of the novel is the rich web of characters it creates in its 1,000-plus pages by combining traditional Arabic methods of storytelling and the modern Western novel.
Newspapers and tourism are certainly methods of understanding the world, but reading about politics will not gain you such an intimate perspective as seeing the friendships, the loves and even the hate etched into the fabric of foreign novels that are slowly seeping in to the canon of Western literature.
Groundbreaking works from Middle Eastern authors have gained recognition for illustrating psychological insights that no bus tour allows. For the price of a camel ride around the Great Pyramid, a good book is more satisfying and lasts a lot longer.