As a teacher of international politics, I had to go overseas and see for myself how foreign governments worked, how culture and economics produced competition that was sometimes good, sometimes bad.
Strangely, my first international convention took place in Pittsburgh only 50 miles south of Westminster College, my teaching platform at the time. The convention focused on simulations and educational games in North America as alternatives to the traditional lecture method of instruction.
My college had run a mock presidential nominating convention to simulate the real convention every four years since the mid 1930s. Our students had fun and learned politics at the same time.
After Pittsburgh, I discovered that the International Simulation and Gaming Association would be holding its next convention in West Berlin. I participated in the Berlin convention to discover techniques I could use in my own classroom. I also toured West Berlin, and went through "Checkpoint Charlie" into communist East Berlin to tour that part of Berlin.
But most important of all were the people I met at that convention. One very attractive woman was a clinical psychologist from Israel. We met in a panel to discuss challenging gifted students in various honors programs.
I learned my new friend from Israel had been a child prodigy who had played piano concertos with some of the best orchestras in Europe before the war.
As a Jew, she and her parents were sent to the Nazi concentration camps. During that time, both her parents died. After liberation, she migrated to Israel and studied to obtain her Ph.D. in clinical psychology. She had just been appointed to run Israel’s gifted student program with headquarters in Tel Aviv.
I had just been selected to run the Honors Colloquium program at Westminster College for the next two years. So Erica and I had similar interests.
Erica invited me to visit her and her husband in Tel Aviv to see her program in action there and in Jerusalem.
I planned my visit with Erica’s help. She wrote letters of introduction that made possible for me to be briefed by several different governmental officials, the most important of whom was Teddy Kollek, mayor of Jerusalem (from 1965 till 1993). He gave me more than half an hour of his time as we discussed Arab-Israeli relations in his city.
That interview was the most broadening of any I have ever had, for it changed the way I thought about the entire Middle East.
Thus for three weeks in the summer of 1975, I toured Israel from the Golan Heights in the north to Aqaba in the south, from Tel Aviv to Haifa.
I had been asked by the Tri State Zionist Organization in Pittsburgh to make an 8mm movie of an agricultural vocational school named Kfar Silver near Ashkelon. They wanted to use the film to help raise money for that school and its vital contribution to the education of some of the best of Israel’s young people.
To arrange a schedule for my filming of work in classes in the morning and in the fields in the afternoon, I had to check with the secretary of the headmaster. As I left her office, I noted a large poster on the wall behind the secretary’s desk. It was a 3-by-2-foot photograph of Machu Picchu. The secretary said to me: "Of all the places on earth to visit , Machu Picchu in Peru is the one I want to see most of all before I die."
I kept thinking about that farewell. Several years later I gave a presentation to a conference in Caracas, Venezuela. After the conference concluded, I took three days to fly down to Lima and Cuzco in Peru. Then I went 50 miles by train to the foot of the Inca mountain citadel.
A small bus took us half way up the mountain. We climbed the rest of the way by foot. The altitude was about 8,000 feet and the air was very thin.
At the top are undisturbed remains of the Inca retreat never discovered by the Spanish conquerors. The main elements are the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun and the Three Windows Room.
In 1983, UNESCO declared Machu Picchu to be a "world historic site." It was discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, who was the inspiration for the Harrison Ford movie character Indiana Jones.
Without my brief encounter at Kfar Silver, I might never have discovered Machu Picchu. Every tourist should see Machu Picchu. It is a treasure for all the world.
Tom Nichols is a retired college professor who lives in Gainesville. His column appears regularly on Mondays and on gainesvilletimes.com.