I've been missing my friends at Muhlenberg but learning a lot while spending a truly magnificent academic year at the Universidad de San Francisco in Quito. My message to you is one that I hope will inspire you to action.
We all have ties to or interests in the countries where the languages we know are spoken. At the same time, we live in the United States, arguably the most powerful nation in the world. How well informed are we of what the U.S. is doing around the globe? I had always considered myself a reasonably conscientious world citizen. However, during my time in Ecuador I have been shocked to find out how little I knew about our current foreign policy in Latin America. For example, the U.S. Plan Colombia is discussed almost daily in Ecuadorian publications, but I've discovered that it is virtually unmentioned in the U.S. news. This is only one example of U.S. action in foreign territories, and without delving into the politics of the plan here, I'll only urge you to investigate this issue. As is said in Spanish, vale la pena.
Latin America is my primary area of international interest and happens to be a region of extensive U.S. activity. However, there is not a region of the world that U.S. foreign policy does not touch. Do you know what our nation is doing in the countries where your language of choice is spoken? We now have ready access to information beyond what the U.S. media reports. For starters, the webpages of U.S. embassies outline issues of U.S. involvement in their particular countries. Online versions of foreign newspapers show the day-to-day of the issues and provide names and dates for further investigation. Once you have some of the basics (and your interest is piqued), finding out more will come naturally.
With a new presidential administration only a few months old, all aspects of foreign policy are being reevaluated. This makes it an ideal time to find out more. Once informed, we can build our own opinions and answer intelligently when speaking with individuals from other nations. Let's break the 'dumb American' stereotype! As speakers of foreign languages we have the opportunity --or is that obligation?-- to show ourselves to the world as conscientious citizens of our powerful nation and active voices influencing U.S. foreign policy. What are we waiting for?
Cheri Sirois, '02