I recently went back to the United States after moving to Germany over a year ago. My German fiance, Markus, went with me as he wanted to see where I grew up, which happens to be Overland Park, Kansas…a suburb of Kansas City. Now for those who aren’t aware Kansas City lies in two states, Kansas and Missouri. But we were headed to Leawood, Kansas to stay with a childhood friend of mine near where I grew up. The reason for our convoluted travel plans is not important, but we flew into Atlanta, Georgia and rented a car so that we could drive to Kansas as our first stop. Since we had a ton of luggage, I stood watch as Markus went to the counter to get our rental car…I won’t disgrace the name of the car rental company as I’m sure they are not responsible for their employees’ education, but it was a major rental company. After about 15 minutes Markus came back shaking his head asking what is wrong with us, because the conversation he had at the counter went something like this…
Rental guy #1: Where are you driving to?
Markus: Leawood, Kansas
Rental guy #1: Kansas is a city. What state are you driving to?
Markus: I realize there is a Kansas City, but we are going to the state of Kansas.
Rental guy #1: There isn’t a state of Kansas, its only a city.
Markus: uhhhh…my fiance grew up in the state of Kansas.
Rental guy #2: No, he is right. Kansas is a city not a state.
Markus: But there is a state also named Kansas.
Rental guy #1 and #2: No, I don’t think so.
Markus: Whatever…you guys are the ones with the US citizenship. We are driving to that area…will that work.
Rental guy #1: Sure, no problem.
As my GERMAN fiance, who has never lived in the US, is recounting this story I want to storm up to the counter and ask them if they have ever heard of the Wizard of Oz and are they f%$#ing kidding me. We aren’t in the US for more than 1 hour and I’m already embarrassed by Americans’ geographical knowledge…or lack of it. But you can’t attribute this problem to just poor education in the south for guys working a counter at the rental company. Recently, someone with a post-graduate degree asked me if Germany was a part of Europe. I would have not believed he was serious unless he had prefaced it with “don’t make fun of me for asking this question”.
So this is why geography is important and some recommendations.
You need to have a basic understanding of where countries are in the world to understand why things do or don’t matter. My sister lives in Rwanda which is about a zillion miles away from Ebola-land. Several years ago, I flew from Senegal (just north of Ebola-land) to Rwanda and it took me 10 hours. Yes, the African continent is large and what happens in one African country doesn’t happen in all. This is why we shouldn’t keep little girls from Rwanda from attending school in the US. But you need to have a basic understanding of geography of why this is the case.
And it just isn’t Ebola. In order to understand almost any current event in the world, you need to understand where the country is actually located. Everyone seems to have an opinion about Syria and whether we should fight ISIS, but so many cannot identify Syria on a map. And I’m not talking about accidentally picking a nearby country on a map. Syria is NOT in the middle of Africa…or Europe for that matter. Knowing that it is in the Middle East and borders Iraq is important for knowing why the situation is difficult (and in case you didn’t know why…the region is just a bit unstable).
Many years ago, the British drew some lines in the Middle East to form some countries and it has immense impact on the region. The British weren’t the only ones and the Middle East isn’t the only place where this happened. But borders are important….location is everything!! For any interesting look on how the borders of Europe have changed over 3000 years take a look at this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1sjHGODFHg
We are a global world and what happens in one part of the world affects our world. If you don’t believe me, just read up on the Influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 during the First World War. Millions died and it all started in Kansas!! And NO…this does not give you reason to freak out over Ebola in the US!!
When a person says something ridiculous in regards to geography quickly roll your eyes when they aren’t looking. Then educate them. Now I don’t expect a German to educate Americans on the geography of the United States. The highly-educated person I mentioned earlier, who was unclear about countries in Europe, wanted to learn. I kept my sarcastic remarks in check and talked about Europe…and Africa…and all the wonderful places I have been able to visit. If you have this knowledge, share it with others. Get them excited about something beyond the latest video game or sports playoffs. Some could care less, but you will find those who are amazed at the world beyond their local strip mall. Some may not see the point in learning about anything beyond their small radius as they know they will never have the means to travel to far-off places. But tell them why it is important and usually those who want to travel will find a way.
Second recommendation…learn more about geography yourself. I think the majority of us could all benefit from some geography lessons. Look at a map online and discover a country you have never heard.. or a city.. or a river. I have lived in Germany for over a year and I still don’t know their 16 states…pa-the-tic. So once a day, instead of looking at Facebook for the millionth time (because I totally don’t ever do that), pull up a map and learn something new!!
And one last note: I don’t want to get into an Ebola debate, but it was mentioned in this blog. I say don’t freak out, but it is a serious disease killing thousands in Western Africa. We shouldn’t be freaking out over getting Ebola in the US, but we should be worried about the many many lives that have been destroyed by this disease in Western Africa. And to know why people shouldn’t be worried about getting Ebola in the US, but people in Western Africa should be worried…well, you need to know a bit about geography. Best wishes to my friends Jen and Steve Butwill who are headed back to their health care clinic in Liberia.