Students Speak: Learning to Build a World Beyond War

Apr 11, 2023

Today, travel is more important than ever.

After two years of widespread global isolation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing crises such as climate change, war, and the struggle to protect human rights, travel can open our eyes and give us new perspectives on how we make sense of the world.

When I was seven years old, my parents took me to Sakhalin Island located in the Russian Far East, just north of Japan to visit family friends. Our Russian friends have visited us in Hawaii many times. They have a son named Luca who is a year and a half younger than me. Luca and I have celebrated birthdays together in Hawaii and when I visited Sakhalin, I went to school with him and got a small taste of Russian life.

We enjoyed playing together and talking about the video games that we both liked. In Sakhalin, we visited a dacha (Russian country cottage) and played chess. In Hawaii, we bodyboarded and ate shave ice together. This is the type of Russian-American relationships that can be created through travel. If I had not traveled to Russia and Luca had not traveled to Hawaii, we would not be friends and might have very different ideas about each other’s country.

Now the situation is very different. Russia’s attack on Ukraine has made it an international pariah. Many people see Russia as a bad country and want to punish it. My experiences traveling and knowing people there has taught me it is important to distinguish between world politics and ordinary people.

The relationship I have described is just one example of why travel is so important. Humanity faces numerous urgent challenges. With so many serious environmental, economic, and global health problems, we need to come together and cooperate. It may sound like a cliché, but it’s really true; we have so much more that connects us than separates us. Being raised in a bilingual and multicultural household has shaped my identity. My mother is from Japan and my father is Jewish. Studying 20th century history has shown me what can happen when people fail to recognize other people’s humanity.

Growing up in Hawaii has taught me that there are many ways of thinking, living, and communicating. Hawaii has a diverse population of people from across the Pacific and around the world. Each year, millions of people travel to Hawaii for vacation and to have fun, but I wonder if they recognize that Hawaii is a place where they can learn about the different people, different cultures, and how to live together. I am happy to have grown up in Hawaii and enjoy living here, but I’ve decided to go to college in another state in order to be exposed to different people and new ideas.

Living in Hawaii and traveling to far away places has taught me that diversity among people, as in nature, is a good thing because it provides greater flexibility in overcoming challenges. The next time I travel will be a journey of education and the destination will be my future.

Written by Kailash Letman, 17, 12th grade at Kauai High School in Lihue, Hawaii, for the World Is A Classroom Essay Contest.