"Semester at Sea in Istanbul" by Zornitsa Stoyanova-Yerburgh
"Semester at Sea in Istanbul" by Zornitsa Stoyanova-Yerburgh

Prize-Winning Student Essay: Globalization and Opportunity

Nov 25, 2009

In 2009, the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and Semester at Sea inaugurated a continuing relationship in two ways.

Zornitsa Stoyanova-Yerburgh, managing editor of
Ethics & International Affairs, joined Semester at Sea as an interport lecturer and contributed to several classes on human rights and offered Explorer Seminars on the politics and culture of her native Bulgaria.

And, second, we launched an essay contest on the voyage’s theme—"Human Rights and Social Justice in the Mediterranean World." Students who wished to submit an essay either in conjunction with their course work or separately worked with faculty members, who screened the submissions, to present their original work.

We were delighted to receive a good range of essays that Semester at Sea faculty members were willing to endorse. And after careful review by an independent committee including editors at the Carnegie Council, we are delighted to announce that the winning essay is "Globalization and Opportunity" by Katie Carns of Ohio State University. In her essay, Katie reflects on the voyage theme in ways that show depth and insight.

Carnegie Council
Michael J. Smith, Academic Dean, Semester at Sea 2009.

"Globalization and Opportunity" by Katie Carns
As I set out to write about human rights and social justice in the Mediterranean, I questioned what my recent whirlwind Semester at Sea tour of the region had taught me. It became clear that the lens through which I viewed the Mediterranean was inescapably that of an outsider, specifically one who had the luxury of peering into the lives of foreigners while knowing I would soon return to the United States. I did not arrive in Turkey, Egypt, or Morocco completely ignorant of the cultures into which I would step. I had read about them in multiple textbooks by authors of multiple nationalities. The recent technological advancements and the globalization that comes with them have brought us closer to those outside of our borders. Using the Mediterranean as a focal point, I will express the way in which globalization affords us opportunities and responsibilities to know and to experience the struggles and triumphs of those we term "foreign."

My journey into the Mediterranean began with a map. I had never learned exactly where Croatia was located, for instance. I of course had heard mention of the ethnic conflict there but I was too young to comprehend the events when they took place. Yet regardless of why I knew little about Croatia's location and recent history, I felt a sense of guilt. When people asked where I was from, a simple "the States" would not suffice. So I would often add, "Ohio, it's kinda close to New York." One would think that apart from the Big Apple, cities such as Los Angeles or Miami would be the most well-known, leading me to say that I lived near New York. Once, however, a 21-year-old Moroccan girl, said, "Oh yes, Ohio...by Indiana and Kentucky." I was both impressed and taken aback, and embarrassed to know so little of her country. After over a decade's worth of education, why had the only accounts of Morocco in my experience involved a nearly-demeaning exoticism complete perhaps with an Aladdin reference? Is this question more relevant today, when a click of a mouse can bring images of genocide across the world to those of us sitting in computer chairs in Middle America?

When the clicks of our heels replace those from our computer mouse, we try to search for the "real" Turkey or Egypt. We see the pyramids, yet the hundreds of tourists serve as indicators that the real essence of Egypt (should this even be something concrete) is neither a secret whispered to us by the Sphinx nor buried in a tomb of one of the pyramids. The preteen boys with pyramids resting in their palms who possessed desperate eyes and enough knowledge of English to hassle you for money were more telling. Perhaps they would grow into the bazaar's vendors who were relentless in their flattery, their strategy to get us into their shops. The desperation of these children and men to lure us into buying their products illuminated for me the poverty that was more prevalent in countries like Egypt in Morocco than in the United States. For these men and boys, "American" was synonymous with "rich;" American means customer. After hearing news or reading polls about anti-Western sentiment in Turkey, Egypt, and Morocco, I prepared myself to encounter just that; however, in its place I found hospitality. After my hours spent walking, Egyptian and Moroccan shop owners offered me their own chairs. On more than one occasion, shop owners were excited to have me merely visit their shop. They would give me a free gift and a business card as they stated, "Send all of your American friends here!" Another said, "Don't forget Turkey." I will not.

Yet sentiment towards the United States was not the only thing that I found surprising. Because Morocco has been free of its French and Spanish colonial presence for only 53 years, I expected to find resentment towards those powers. Now to speak generally, without the last century's imperialistic ventures, the notion of a "developing world" would likely not exist. In the very least, problems such as starvation, high infant morality rates, and civil war would occur less frequently, as these are all consequences, at least in part, of the subjugation imposed by those who destroyed the colonized countries' former ways of life, exchanging them for ones that made them dependent, then and still today, upon those who overpowered them.

With this in mind, I asked a group of Moroccan university students about their feelings toward France now. They were all in agreement that "we are friends" and that "history is history." I could not help but wonder how much simple practicality and economics had to do with the altruism and hospitality I had encountered. The little boys selling souvenirs at the pyramids or water in Turkey would not consider East-West relations, but focus only on Americans' capacity to help them pay for a meal. Meanwhile without the acceptance of a linked history with France, Morocco would suffer even more economically, as their businesses and institutions remain greatly tied to their former colonizer.

I do not mean to argue that the only reasons for positive relationships between the former colonizers and colonized, in addition to the East and West, are economic ones. Yet it is worth noting that positive feelings towards countries that are more powerful financially and politically than one's own have now become a necessity. This is a direct result of globalization. This globalization includes free trade agreements that benefit all countries involved, international political institutions such as the EU, and countless other non-governmental organizations. An examination of the economic relationship between the developed and developing world allows us to realize that we now live in a world in which interdependence among countries is not only inevitable, but also necessary. In order to examine and alleviate problems of human rights and social justice, people of all nations must recognize this interdependence.

To hold a discussion about the human rights of citizens in the Mediterranean, I think it is first necessary to evaluate the way we view the world. What does the average American expect to find while traveling to Morocco? They likely desire the "exotic." The famed square Djemma El-Fna in Marrakech presents just that. While walking there, a woman grabbed my hand and drew henna on it, demanding money. Another threw a monkey onto my shoulder and encouraged my friends to take a picture. In the background, the instruments of snake charmers served as the soundtrack to the chaos. The henna woman, monkey keeper, and snake charmers all played into our desire for the exotic and all demanded a profit. Too often our knowledge of the world is mingled with or even based upon the desire to be entertained. The entertainers in the square reflect this desire, use it in order to benefit themselves financially. I wonder how they perceive us. Then I remember that many know where Ohio is, that many shout "Obama!" as we pass.

To me, the entertainers reflect poverty, making me think of colonization and of a Western-dominated economic and political world system. However, in order to realize this, in order to get at the issue of social justice, it is necessary that we abandon our quest for the exotic. Perhaps we could replace that with a quest to experience Moroccan culture. After all, the first step to working towards achievement of humans rights for all is the recognition that we, including those foreign to us, in fact deserve those rights. In recognizing this, we must also recognize cultural ideals that are different from our own, taking a step back from the former imperialistic world that designated superior and inferior cultures.

Should we accept this new quest, we should recognize the absence of issues that are black and white. For example, women's rights seems to be the most prevalent issue the West sees in the East, at least according to the mainstream media. In the hejab worn by many Muslim women, many Americans see oppression. Yet this is a dangerous oversimplification. Many women are not forced to cover their head and choose to do so for religious reasons. While this is not true of all women who cover themselves, it is a point that is often forgotten. I have heard many women argue the choice to wear the hejab is a demeaning one, or one that causes a woman to belittle herself. Yet those who argue this way seek to impose their beliefs and judgments where they are not warranted.

A more useful indicator of the level of rights women possess is the percentage of women receiving an education or active in the workplace. Apart from the Henna women in Morocco, I did not once encounter a female shopkeeper in Morocco, Turkey or Egypt. At the same time, on many occasions women guided the tours I went on. I also encountered young female students in Morocco who were in college studying fields from engineering to tourism. The tour guides too had college educations. College educations require money. The street vendors did not seem to have much, as evident by their eagerness to lure you into their shops and their acceptance of extremely meager prices for their goods. I experienced two instances of these vendors criticizing customers for naming a price so low that it was insulting, yet out of necessity finally accepting that price, likely as the customer began to walk away. Therefore it seems to me that the degree to which people are impoverished reflects the degree to which women have rights. The women who can afford the grand expense of college are also those who commonly work and therefore appear most free. This example illustrates the way in which questions of human rights are not straightforward. They are not based on something as simple as whether or not a woman's hair is visible. In order to be a supporter of international human rights, one must also be aware of the complexity of issues surrounding them.

I have written from my perspective as an American student traveling in the Mediterranean. I perceive the world in a way that is distinct from those in the countries that I visited. They too recognized me as a foreigner. I know that I was most often viewed as a tourist, as a seeker of entertainment, although that was not my goal. Still, I think citizens of Morocco, Egypt, and Turkey could more readily identify with aspects of my identity as an American than I could in regard to their nationality. I found remnants of my country abroad. I could wake up to a Starbucks coffee, shop at the Nike store, and then eat lunch at KFC where American music would likely be playing. If a cab driver spoke any English, it was enough to discuss Obama or merely to say "Bush, bad." Many people knew and often had traveled to cities in the United States. The reasons why the vendors hassled us so much for our money became clear to me. The America that we seek to export is one of consumerism. I did not want that to be the most significant way in which others perceived me as an American. Yet I understood why such a perception would make the most sense. It was saddening to think about how little we truly knew of each other.

Yet after traveling to these countries, I now know more than I did. I am thankful for that opportunity but am aware that it constitutes just one of many opportunities I have to know the world. Throughout history, rhetoric surrounding issues of social justice has too often been oversimplified; too often have we imposed our own ideals on other cultures without choosing to know those cultures before judging their practices as wrong. What has been missing is the desire to truly know those different from us.

I am a student seeking to learn. I am also a member of a nation that has great responsibility towards other countries. We haven given others McDonald's; however, our status as a powerful political and economic force in the world begs us to give more. In an age when we can tour other nations through the Internet, sell our products all over the world, and dramatically affect world politics, we more than ever have the power to effect change. The relationship between the young boys selling camels and the American tourists reflects in the most basic way the way in which different nations benefit from an international economy. This clues us into the fact that nations are interdependent. If this point is not clear, one only need look at problems that affect all of the world's citizens such as those of the environment. Mutual need reflects mutual opportunities.

I am writing now on my way back to the United States after spending a few days in Egypt, Turkey, and Morocco. I do not seek to entirely explain an issue in the realm of human rights, but I would like to make the first step, a step that is too often disregarded in today's fast-paced world. I recognize my place as an American and as a citizen of the world and I seek to use the tools globalization presents in order to know other countries and other cultures, and then to live as a conscious member of the human community.

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