Don't know much about geography

What motivates people to become interested in another culture?

In this global village we supposedly inhabit, the answer should be easy - something to do with the Internet, international trade, and maybe a bit of world music.

But the world is still a big place. For an instructive reminder, hop on a plane from Chicago to say, Tokyo, and sit with your knees in your nose for 12 long hours and 45 slow minutes.

So it's not a given that we'll all choose to reach beyond our borders to see how others do things. This is often true of Americans - and particularly so, a new study tells us, when it comes to learning about Asia (see story, page 21). Despite its heavyweight status in international trade and modern history (all those wars involving the US, for starters), Americans don't care to know much about it.

Americans don't know much about a lot of countries, so this isn't surprising. But the Asia Society's efforts to improve teaching about Asia - through better training and resources - are needed.

Some students engage with another country through study abroad. Sometimes, less-obvious factors exert a pull: Stories about my grandmother's life in China in the 1920s heavily influenced my choice of an Asian studies major in college. Education writer Marjorie Coeyman tells me that her love of France started with placemats sporting the Eiffel Tower.

But school study of Asia is important, too. It's another chance to open vistas that might actually change a child's life. If nothing else, it could move kids past stereotypes that linger in perceptions of a key area still linked, in many minds, with mystery.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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