On Monday, I rode in an Uber from a small town in northern Massachusetts just outside of the New Hampshire border back to Boston. My driver was a Cambodian man who spoke to me at lengths about his favorite quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. and the Prophet Muhammad. He shared his story of moving across seas at eleven. When I asked where he moved from, he responded first with an expression of gratitude and then told me he was from Cambodia. Curious as to why he thanked me, I asked. He was grateful I didn’t assume he was Latino, something he said happens daily, and because I knew where Cambodia was. 

I’m sure many of the post calvin readers would have responded in a similar way by not assuming this man’s ethnicity. But enough people do the exact opposite that this man felt the need to thank me for treating him with decency. That hurts. He deserves better. 

Thankfully, I had the right teachers, including one special talking globe my parents gifted me for Christmas sometime before I turned ten. Through this globe and mediated through my parents, I like to think I became a globalist, not in a political science jargon sort of way (though perhaps that’s related), but just that for as long as I can remember, I have been very aware of the geographical structure of our planet. At one point in middle school, I had even memorized the location, name, and capital of every non-island country recognized by the United Nations. That present changed my life through the realization that the world I knew was incomplete and was only one of the worlds contained within my little globe. 

There are plenty of talking globes, and I regretfully can’t recall the brand or model of mine. Like many talking globes, it had a keyboard-like plastic “screen” wrapped around the base with a bunch of buttons. The buttons consisted of different types of societal structures: religion, economics, history, etc… The user would press their button of choice and then with the bulky stylus, tap a country. The globe would respond with a few sentences or more of information relevant to the button you pressed, much like bite-sized information in the vein of a Johnny Harris YouTube video. 

I distinctly remember being fascinated that India had a female head of state in the 1960s, that Indonesia had more Muslims than any other country in the world, and that people in several southeast Asian countries play an insanely athletic sport called sepak takraw that’s like volleyball but with your legs. Seeing as I now study global religions, this globe built the foundation of my education. 

Natural citizens of America like myself have a particular duty to educate ourselves about our position within the global political economy. Roughly half of the world is bilingual; less than a quarter of Americans, which includes naturalized citizens, can speak two or more languages. A 2019 Gallup survey on Americans’ knowledge of geography and world affairs noted that “respondents answered just over half of the knowledge questions correctly, and only 6 percent got at least 80 percent of the questions right,” and concluded that “Americans exhibit gaps in their knowledge about geography and world affairs.” 

I know I’m not immune from this. I don’t speak any other languages fluently. I can read and understand French but can’t speak it well; my Turkish is adequate for ordering food and that’s about it. Subconsciously, I still think of myself as an American before a global citizen. But I’m aware of this shortcoming, and I think that’s something. 

An education rooted in world affairs decenters one’s one experience—and when this education lacks, our own experiences remain centered. It’s no wonder the majority of the world watches English language movies without dubbing their own languages, but 54% of Americans view subtitles negatively. Americans lack a global perspective, something my Uber driver was unfortunately all too aware of.

Perhaps I still would have been a decent person and wouldn’t have assumed this man’s ethnicity if I never studied with my globe teacher. But I’d also have better hopes for the other people that step into his Uber, the same people that falsely assume he speaks Spanish. 

If you need a last-minute Christmas gift for a child under thirteen, may I recommend the best gift I ever received: a talking globe.

1 Comment

  1. Mike

    I read your article on Where Peter Is. Welcome to The Church! So I checked out your other stuff.

    Great read, thanks. I can’t wrap my head around why everybody else thinks they’re “The Rock” in Matthew 16:18.
    Keep posting!


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