In 1981, when I was fresh out of college, I joined the Peace Corps. My decision to sign up was certainly motivated by a desire to do something worthwhile, and the altruism of the job appealed to me.
But the other major reason I went was entirely selfish: I wanted to go because I was curious. I knew that many people in the world did not live as I did. I had a comfortable home, the security of abundant food, easy access to medical care, and a family with enough resources to provide a safety net should I ever – literally or figuratively – stumble and fall.
I did not, however, have the foggiest idea how people in poorer parts of the world did live.
And so, I went to live and teach in Nepal.
Altruism might be the best reason to join the Peace Corps, but I don’t think curiosity is necessarily the worst. Curiosity implies at least a certain openness to new ideas. (I don’t think it’s possible to be truly curious if your mind is already completely made up.)
And since part of the Peace Corps mission is to bring a greater understanding and tolerance of the world back home to America, I think my curiosity served me well.
On the surface, of course, life in my rural Nepali village was very different than my life had been back home. The village lacked electricity; the homes had no running water; kids went barefoot to school; moms cooked the family’s dinner over an open fire in the middle of the kitchen floor.
But beneath the surface, I found that much about life in my Nepali village was exactly like my life had been at home. Parents worked hard to feed their families. Kids studied and played with friends. And everyone gathered to relax at the end of the day.
By the time I left, I knew that the woman I saw hauling water home from the community water tap in a copper jug, had many of the same values and goals that I did.
Today we live in a much more global society than ever before. And it’s crucial that we help our kids learn about other cultures. It’s only through learning about other cultures that we can begin to develop tolerance for our differences, and look past them to seek common ground.
That’s why I write books about other countries. I’ve written about water around the world, about families, and about peace. My latest title with National Geographic, ONE WORLD, ONE DAY, is about school kids around the world. The book shows how their lives may be a little bit different. But more importantly, it shows how their lives are a lot alike.