PBS host urges world travel as a learning experience

Steves meets with audience after presentation.
Steves meets with audience after presentation.

Rick Steves is Cockefair Chair lecturer

With the fervor of a televangelist and the charisma to match, Rick Steves urged his full-house audience to go out and meet the world’s people face to face.

“Ninety-six percent of the world’s people live elsewhere,” said Steves, the noted travel writer and PBS host, “and they would love to meet you. Open up your mind, be accepting, put aside your opinions and your cultural bias, and you will have incredible experiences.”

Steves, whose public television program, “Rick Steves’ Europe” will begin its 6thseason in October, gave a Carolyn Benton Cockefair lecture Sunday, March 11 at Unity on the Plaza. The topic of his presentation was “Travel as a Political Act.” The Cockefair Chair was established by the University of Missouri-Kansas City to honor literature instructor Carolyn Benton Cockefair, who retired in 1964. The group continues to bring the best minds of the day to Kansas City to give free lectures.

Steves’ 90-minute presentation and slide show ranged from the joys of discovery in another country – food, politics, music and architecture – to the shared values of people.

In anecdote after anecdote, Steves stressed that differences should be embraced. “We’re just different,” he said. “One man pointed out to me that the world’s people eat with utensils, with chopsticks or with their fingers. He maintained that all are civilized, not right or wrong.”

In her introduction of Steves, Linna Place, International Academic Programs director at UMKC, stated that more than 350 UMKC students studied abroad last year and were dramatically changed by the experience. Making the case for the student study-abroad experience, Steves cited the European Union program giving scholarships and stipends to college students for study elsewhere, an idea that has yet to catch on in the U.S.

According to Steves, the biggest obstacle to Americans going abroad is fear. And fear, in his lexicon, is for people who don’t go out much. He spoke of the safety and ease in traveling almost anywhere and of finding a warm reception wherever he went.

“In Iran, a mother approached me on the street and lectured me about young American female celebrities, their dress and behavior. ‘I don’t want my little girl to dress like that or act like that,’ she said. I replied, ‘I don’t want my little girl to do that, either.’ ”

He concluded with a story about a dervish illustrating and explaining the familiar prayer dance, planting one foot in his village and circling the world with the other foot, spreading love to brothers and sisters everywhere.

“We shouldn’t let fear keep us home,” Steves advised. “It’s so much better to experience love for others.”

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