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  Editor's Note

Crossing Borders

Jack O'ConnellIt would probably be hard to find a more unlikely editor for an issue concerned with “Global Alumni.” I have lived virtually all of my life within about three square miles of Worcester. To the best of my memory—which, admittedly, has already grown a bit foggy here in middle age—that was not the intention back at the start. But, as anyone old enough to be receiving this magazine knows, life appears to love irony.

I was a kid who feasted on Jack London, a teen who carried Kerouac novels in my back pocket. When my parents returned home one day with the gift of a Rand McNally atlas from a local bank or supermarket, I claimed it as my own and studied its pages as if it were a book of spells. I spent countless hours daydreaming of travel to the most exotic reaches, of relocation to immense cities on the far side of the globe.

In my third year on the Hill, enthralled by the tales of Dave Welch ’78—who had spent a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in the wilds of Alaska before returning to campus as assistant director of the Holy Cross Fund—I applied for a JVC position in Bethel, a Yukon town of about 5,000 people on the Kuskokwim River in the western part of the state. I imagined this would be my launch into a peripatetic life. But, to borrow the memorable line from comedian Julia Sweeney, “God Said, ‘Ha!’”

I never ended up in Alaska. Or Prague. Or Venice. Or Katmandu. Or any of those other seemingly mysterious and exciting locales that I had circled and starred in that world atlas. Instead, I settled into my own hometown and came to appreciate its sense of community and connection and, yes, its own unique charms. Today, if there exists a word that means the opposite of an expatriate, it might be the most suitable description one could hang on me.

Over the years, reading letters and taking calls from friends who had managed to roam far and wide, to live for extended periods in distant capitals and experience unfamiliar cultures, I’ll confess that I felt an occasional small twinge for the lost wanderlust of my youth. I have read or heard friends’ stories about running with the bulls in Pamplona, about wandering in the bazaars of Morocco, about an encounter with a “black beetle merchant” in Cambodia. In retrospect, I realize that what I most appreciate—and, perhaps, envy—in these stories is the opportunity such experiences provide for a deeper self-knowledge regarding one’s place in the world.

What international sojourns of any length bring us, among other things, is enlarged perspective, a chance to gain a fresh vantage. A chance to deepen our understanding of how we are affected by our environment … and how our environment affects us.

The alumni profiled in this issue live in Europe, Asia, Australia, South America and the Middle East. In their profiles, they testify to the lasting impact of their experiences in overseas lands, to a sense of growth and enlargement by way of immersion in a culture that’s often quite different from the one into which they were born.

Decades ago, Marshall McLuhan (borrowing from Wyndham Lewis) used the phrase “global village” to speak about the ways that electronic media would break down the barriers of geography and culture. To some extent, McLuhan’s prophecies appear to have come true. But, while the world today may seem smaller and more integrated than ever before, our alumni report that living in another land continues to change, profoundly, the way they view the planet and its people. They all left Mount St. James and America at different times, for different reasons, to venture to different lands. But they have come to share that special form of self-knowledge known only to the expatriate. 

Jack O'Connell


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