A world outside the West

American travel to non-Western nations will help the United States adapt to a new world order.

Hadley Gustin

Burkina Faso, Bahrain, Bhutan âÄî these nations all have one critical thing in common: Most Americans have no idea they exist. Unlike the United Kingdom, Canada and France (top destinations for Americans), countries to the East continue to fall off the map when it comes to choosing travel locations. According to a 2008 Gallup Poll, the most favored countries by Americans were Canada with 92 percent favorability, the U.K. with 89 percent and Germany with 82 percent. These numbers deeply contrasted those of nations least favored by Americans. Iraq had 20 percent likability, North Korea had 12 percent and Iran had a scanty 8 percent. Granted, the United States has been heavily engaged militarily in Iraq and has seen an increase in tensions with North Korea and Iran. However, it is curious why the top three countries most supported by Americans are all Western powers. The obvious answer would be that the U.S. is a nation historically tied to Western Europe, and it tends to identify more with that culture area. While this may very well be true, countries like China that produce $338 billion in U.S. exports continue to be undervalued and underestimated by the average American traveler. Instead, his or her attention remains rigidly focused on the West, but this does not represent the global power structure at all. Surely, standing atop the Eiffel Tower, climbing the Alps or floating along in a Venetian gondola are magnificent experiences. In truth, there is an abundance of history and culture to experience in Western European states. But it is both irresponsible and foolish on the part of our governmental institutions to exaggerate the present international influence and importance of the West. Alternatively, a greater percentage of American travelers âÄî particularly students âÄî should explore nontraditional and unfamiliar places. Vistawide, a company that provides foreign language education, reported that during the past school year seven out of the 10 most popular study abroad programs were in the West. For the purpose of endowing our youth with the means necessary to maintain AmericaâÄôs global status, it is essential that rising stars like Brazil, Russia, India and China receive more de facto emissaries. It would behoove young Americans to experience their customs and mores and learn about their world views in order to gain a greater understanding of international politics, economics and culture. Steven Weber, director of the Institute of International Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, professes that there exists âÄúa world without the West [in which there is] a rapid deepening of interconnectivity within the developing world that is surprisingly autonomous from Western control, resulting in the development of a new, parallel international system with its own distinctive set of rules, institutions and currencies of power.âÄù In other words, the current international political system, following the protocol of the U.S., is no longer being recognized by emerging powers. Instead, they are building their own world system. Thus, it is in the best interests of the U.S. to send its up-and-coming generations to these new centers of authority so as not to fall behind. Right now the world is experiencing major transition as it works through this latest financial crisis and adapts to shifts in power. When this period of change settles, though, the globe will look much different than the unipolar world of American preeminence that is in its final throes. As a result, Americans will soon be obligated to deal and compromise with the world outside the West. The decision now must be to adapt to some of the newly forming global standards and embrace the rise of innovative civilizations. This is the only way to survive the latest wave of international transformation and re-emerge with strength, high esteem and an equal stake in the progress of a contemporary world order. Hadley Gustin welcomes comments at [email protected]