This week’s true story of cross-cultural friendship comes from Barbara Mori, a professor of sociology who retired recently from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California. Throughout her life, she has lived many years in Asia, where she supports educational programs in several countries. When it comes to American pride, you won’t find a prouder neighbor than Barbara. Yet, Barbara has devoted decades of her life to supporting innovative educational programs for people in several Asian countries. She sees herself as an American internationalist.
BARBARA’S STORY …
I am an American. I’ve lived one sixth of my life outside of the United States, but there has never been any doubt that I am American. I am part of the third generation in a family of immigrants from Germany, England and Wales and, in that tradition, we love our country.
When the planes hit the towers in New York on 9/11, I was visiting a friend in Japan at the time. I came downstairs that morning and she was making breakfast. She said, “Barbara, planes have hit the World Trade Center in New York.”
I said, “It’s too early for jokes.”
She said, “I’m not joking.” We turned the television on and, of course, they were playing it over and over again on Japanese television. I sat down and I cried a long time. Then, I went for a walk and I just kept walking for three or four hours. I did meet some Japanese that day who talked to me in a sympathetic way. I appreciated that. I am an American and I was shaken.
I am not worried about my future, no. I’ve made some wise choices in my life and I can afford to live on retirement pay. I’ve scrolled away some money and I plan to die broke. Until then, I’m going to travel as much as I can.
What gives me hope? One is that I’m a Buddhist and very happily a Buddhist.
And I’m hopeful as an American, too. I’ve lived nine years in Japan, three years in Korea and three years in China. I go back to China every two years. I’m planning a second trip to North Korea next month. I’ve been to Burma four times and I’m going a fifth time in December. I see myself as an internationalist, but I know that when people look at me as I travel, they see me as an American. And I’m proud of that.
When I travel around the world, I’m also an educator. I taught at Cal Poly for 23 years, but I’m involved in educational programs in many countries. I’m helping to rebuild an elementary school in the boondocks of Burma, where the government in Burma seems to have no interest in helping that school. In China, I’m helping Chinese women to learn and teach calligraphy. I’ve paid the tuition for several Chinese students to go to college. If you care about the world, I believe you should put your money where your mouth is.
Most important in finding hope for me is that I am an educator. You have to be an optimist to be a teacher. Pessimists don’t make it. They get burned out. If I can’t find hope and meaning in education, then there’s no point to my life.
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(Originally published at www.FriendshipAndFaith.com)