I've found that my interest in material things has been almost entirely replaced by my interest in exploring new cultures and making new friends. I have experienced the hospitality of cultures vastly different from my own and forged friendships in almost every corner of the globe.
Spending several months in a sleepy little town with no fast food shops, no night clubs, no Wal-Mart, no sports teams, no TV and not much of anything familiar from our culture could be torture for some people. But being in such a place makes you special in the eyes of the local people. I usually find that they are just as curious about me and American people as I am about them and their customs. It's kind of fun being the object of an entire village's curiosity.
When I show up in such a place, there are often people who have never seen a foreigner. Children are especially curious and sometimes I feel like the Pied Piper with a flock of children following me around. Sharing a meal with a family in a small farming or fishing village, comparing customs and traditions, and laughing with each other as we stumble through the language barriers; these are the moments I enjoy most.
I enjoy spending a day with one of the locals while he does his normal daily activities, like joining a fisherman as he nets fish from his rowboat on the Nile River. I've seen a farmer irrigate his crops using two buckets suspended from a pole across his shoulders and plow his rice paddy with a wooden plow pulled by a pair of water buffalo. I've watched a printer set up his hand-and-foot-operated printing press to print business cards in Arabic.
I have had time to really get to know some people who live a hard but simple life with little or no income and little hope of that ever changing. People adapt. If you cannot afford a car or a TV or a refrigerator or shoes; if you live in a house with a dirt floor and a thatched roof and no running water; if you have to work stooped over in the fields from dawn until dusk from the time you are a child until you are old and feeble; it builds character and teaches you how to relish things that are simple and free, like compassion and humor. I have learned a lot from these people, and I am a better person because of it.
~ Dave McCann, ME '79 from University of Missouri-Rolla, senior field engineer for GE Energy Services, Missouri S&T Magazine, Summer 2009