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Tom Kunkel
Passports to understanding
President Thomas Kunkel

I grew up in Evansville, Ind., whose metropolitan population is about the same as that of greater Green Bay. More important, it was much the same kind of place – a community where manufacturing was king, where most folks were Catholic, and where, depending on the day of the week, they worked hard, played hard or prayed hard.

Also, they tended to stay close to home.

The one big vacation trip of my youth occurred when my parents, my maternal grandparents, my two sisters, my brother and I all packed into a Brentwood station wagon for a long ride to Florida – where it proceeded to rain torrentially for seven days straight. I didn’t get on a jet plane until I flew to New York City when I was 23 years old.

What a blessing, then, to have stumbled into careers that opened wide the doors of international travel. Today I can look back and savor numberless memories: walking a park in Osaka in spring with blossoming cherry trees as far as the eye could see; being dazzled by Hong Kong from the heights of Victoria Peak; visiting with a sheik in his Dubai palace; taking in the surreal sights and sounds of Taipei’s Snake Alley; enjoying street theatre in Antwerp’s medieval square; dining harborside in Sydney; walking China’s Great Wall; strolling Montmartre in Paris; staying in the grand Salzburg manor that played the Von Trapp home in “The Sound of Music”; visiting Confucius’ birthplace; visiting Mao’s tomb.

Not to mention paying my respects to St. Norbert at his crypt inside beautiful Strahov Abbey, high above Prague.

I am fortunate to say I could go on like this, but you already get the idea. Mind you, the point of travel is not to see how many customs stamps you can accumulate in your passport. To travel means to experience what even the best textbooks cannot translate – what other cultures look, sound and feel like.

Of course, the value of travel is not just a question of understanding other people. It can be personally transformational as well, especially if you can really immerse yourself in another country, as our students do when they study abroad. You not only learn how to adapt and respond to everyday challenges, but you get that educational, if unsettling, sense of what it means to be the other – and thus, one hopes, a more tolerant, more fully human, individual.

Affordable jet travel has literally put the rest of the world within reach of more people than ever before – including our students, I’m proud to say. More than 30 percent of this May’s graduating class participated in formal, semester-long study-abroad programs, while another 15 to 20 percent will have left the country for class field trips, vacations or other reasons.

These experiences are crucial. The tensions between people cannot truly be ameliorated until we obtain a fuller understanding of one another. My former boss, University of Maryland president Dan Mote, used to say, “Today one cannot be considered a truly educated person without firsthand experience with other cultures.” I couldn’t agree more.

Summer 2010 Magazine

Web extraLook here for web-only content that expands on topics presented in the current St. Norbert College Magazine (PDF).

Text ExtraThe education of a freshman president
Reflections by President Tom Kunkel in Trusteeship magazine.

VideoJohn M. Perkins speaks
The civil rights statesman interviewed on campus.

VideoPaul Tagliabue opens Sport and Society conference
The former NFL commissioner delivers his keynote address.

GalleryCommencement 2010
A gallery of images from “a ridiculously fine day” in May.

GalleryGwen Ifill’s Commencement address
The journalist and newscaster spoke to the Class of 2010.

VideoOn the road
Images and reflections from a sabbatical journey undertaken
by Brian Pirman (Art).

Text ExtraThe Yogurt Man Cometh
A chapter to enjoy from this travelogue in Turkey, recounted by author Kevin Revolinski ’90.

GalleryThe faculty in action
Professors as educators: teaching, advising, demonstrating, mentoring and working with students.

Story ideas? Your ideas for future magazine stories are most welcome. Write to the editor with any suggestions or comments.

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