Growing up in a rural community in northern Indiana, my family’s travels were limited. Once a year we might have gone on a drive to visit friends in another state or pitch a tent near Niagara Falls, my parents’ favorite destination. Despite our modest means, I always looked forward to “exploring the world” (even just to Canada) because it meant experiencing a different way of life—a foreign currency, the metric system, and some differences in goods and services. Specifically, these trips allowed me to appreciate that to succeed in our current global environment, we must understand how people approach everyday decisions in unique ways. I yearned to discover more of the world.
That opportunity came during college when I participated in study abroad experiences in Italy and France. Not only did I live as a local, but my handy Eurail pass allowed me to explore over a dozen countries while mastering the art of sleeping in a crowded train compartment packed with strangers. Sometimes I would have only a few hours to explore a city or country before hopping on another train for the next destination. Consequently, I learned to optimize my time at each destination, no matter how short.
Since my college days, I expanded greatly the number of countries I have visited. I continue to add countries every year to the current list of 85. Admittedly, some people may not consider these “proper visits” as I spend less than 24 hours at some destinations. However, I do spend enough time to talk with locals, see interesting sights, taste unique foods, and take home wonderful memories.
Many people question how I could possibly appreciate the culture in so little time. But consider the following question: If you had 10 days to travel, would you rather see 10 countries or one? I ask this question to many, and most choose the latter because it is less stressful and allows one to experience the culture of a country more fully. However, my unending curiosity to personally experience every country is the reason why I would choose the former. When I meet students or colleagues from other countries, the ability to share in the images and cultural scenes they describe is greatly enhanced by having been there myself.
Recently, I added Bhutan, Kazakhstan, and Botswana to my list of visited countries. Prior to visiting, my perception of these destinations was limited to what I saw in glossy brochures and on websites. By stepping foot in these places to see, hear, smell, and feel the culture is an experience one cannot obtain any other way. Talking with locals (sometimes in remote villages) makes my visit unique and meaningful. Moreover, these experiences were easily tailored into meaningful economic examples which have become an integral part of my teaching.
Several years ago, I started filming my short journeys by discussing the economic concepts seen around the world in a documentary entitled, “Around the World in 80 Hours” (viewable on YouTube). Unlike typical travel videos, much of the footage is just myself capturing everyday moments in the life in several countries. These videos led to the development of a feature in my textbook called “Around the World”, which focuses on an economic problem somewhere in the world from the viewpoint of an individual in that country, observing first-hand the economic decisions being made. By encouraging our students to explore the world using whatever means we have, we become better at economic thinking by appreciating that there are many different ways to solve economic problems.
-Eric Chiang, Author of Economics: Principles for a Changing World