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Is Ugly Tourism Good Tourism?

New York Times Op-Ed Columnist, Nicholas Kristof wrote an interesting column this past weekend, “Cum Laude in Evading Bandits” (May 31, 2009), encouraging students to travel. In some ways, it’s also a pronouncement of the education system.

The kind of travel he talks about doesn’t include enjoying luxury hotel services, sipping latte or cappuccino or visiting popular tourist venues. He’s talking about traveling to impoverished areas of the world where lessons on tolerance, diversity, human struggle, and compassion are better taught than in the classrooms. In fact, he advocates schools to include these excursions in their curriculum because these types of field experiences cement everything taught by the textbooks. Acknowledging fears that normally arise from trips to the more “questionable” or “dangerous” areas of the world, Kristof suggests that the benefits from these kinds of “authentic interactions with local cultures” outweighs the possible safety risks.

Here is an excerpt:

One of the great failures of American universities is that they are far too parochial, rarely exposing students to worlds beyond our borders.

If colleges provide credit for dozing through an introductory Spanish class, why not give credit for a “gap year” in a Bolivian village? If students can learn about microfinance while sitting comatose in 9 a.m. lectures, couldn’t they learn more by volunteering with a lender in a Bangladesh slum?

So with summer starting, it’s up to students themselves to self-educate by setting off on their own. I hold my “win a trip” contest precisely to encourage such trips — I’m just back from visiting five West African countries with a University of South Carolina student. Yet when I encourage students’ wanderlust, questions invariably arise: Will I be safe? How do I avoid robbers and malaria?

Read more on his 15 tips for traveling to even the roughest of countries — and back.

Do you agree with Kristof’s assertions? For you, do the travel benefits outweigh the possible safety risks?

Photo by The Dilly Lama


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