The word “foreigner,” with its vaguely pejorative connotations, kept coming to mind during production of this issue on alumni making a difference globally. I grew up at a time and in a place where “foreigner” was part of our lexicon. It didn’t just describe someone who came from a different country; it described someone who was fundamentally different from “us” and was part of an amorphous conglomeration called “them”—and therefore a bit suspect.
Suspicion was heightened if the foreigner did not speak English and/or was nonwhite or non-Christian. The rules about interacting with foreigners, though largely unspoken, were clear: Be polite but be watchful and keep your distance.
Moving to Minneapolis in the late 1970s was a rude awakening. I discovered how fearful I was around those I perceived as different from me, and how ill equipped that mindset had left me to navigate the big, new, multihued world of the city. I was lucky to encounter situations and people who helped me grow beyond the crippling parochialism I had inherited. Being a graduate student at the University of Minnesota was one such opportunity to grow.
The word foreigner is not used much these days, but the tendency to regard difference as a threat is alive and well—alarmingly so. Thus I found it poignant to comb through the list in this issue that begins on page 18 and ends on page 22. It is rare that something in the magazine thoroughly captivates my attention all throughout the weeks-long process of writing, editing, rewriting, editing, and editing again, but such was the case with that list. It’s a roster of the 167 countries outside of the United States where University of Minnesota alumni live. Reading it is an education and a meditation: Christmas Island—where is that? Tonga—how does life differ in that Pacific nation from the life in Minnesota those two alumni led when they were students? Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, Yemen, Ukraine—what is happening to the 56 alumni who live in those war zones? Have they and their families survived? Are they living in displacement camps? Have their lives and careers been upended or have they avoided the turmoil? Twenty-six alumni live in Tunisia, and one of them is the new prime minister of that fragile and hopeful democracy (see story on page 24). Suddenly, I’m interested in following that country’s progress.
At the Alumni Association we talk about being a global community. It’s not mere marketing jargon. Our connections to each other through the University we share are an invitation to continue to grow and to expand our worldview in much the same way we did as students. In connecting with the global community of alumni, we’re likely to discover that there are no foreigners among us.
Cynthia Scott (M.A. ’89) is the editor of Minnesota. She can be reached at email@example.com