I flew back to Panama from Washington DC on Saturday and sat in business class next to this very attractive, buttoned up, wicked smart college student.
I’m usually a bury-my-head in an Amazon book kind of guy on planes, but she started talking from the moment I sat down, so I figured, what the hell.
She was Panamanian. Actually Lebanese-Panamanian. And a graduate student at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.
I asked her how she liked grad school and the answer she gave me was surprising…and depressing.
She said that she loved school and had many great friends, but that all of her friends were from other countries. She didn’t have any American friends.
I asked her why and she told me that in her experience American students treated her like a weird alien — some immigrant from a banana republic not hip to the ways of tailgaters, beer bongs and frat parties. None of them it seemed, were interested in making her acquaintance.
Consequently, she found them so closed minded and “provincial” that she gave up and made friends elsewhere.
An embarrassing confession here: I had to discreetly fire up the i-Pad and look up the precise definition of provincial…
Limited in perspective; narrow and self-centered.
To illustrate, she told me about an American classmate of hers (keep in mind that this was a graduate student) who once haughtily explained to a breakout session of her comparative politics class that Venezuela’s growing socialist influence in surrounding countries was ultimately irrelevant in global affairs.
“Why?”, she asked…
His answer: “Because the African continent is just not that important on the world stage.”
(Slap forehead here)
Yep… This guy – this graduate student of an elite U.S. university – believed that Venezuela was a country in Africa.
But then she delivered the knockout punch.
This precocious 21 year-old told me that she was fluent in four languages — English, Spanish, Arabic and French!
Same deal for her social circle. Her close friends were from all corners of the globe – Turkey, Venezuela, Lebanon, Egypt, France and points beyond.
All were fluent in at least two languages, and some were fluent in as many as four.
For any red-blooded American boy, this young lady would be a huge catch. Gorgeous, smart, international, and sophisticated… But sorry college dudes, you wouldn’t stand a chance.
And for U.S. parents who want their brood to compete with the likes of Ms. Banana Republic, here’s the deal:
If you are not making sure your kids are fluent in at least one other language, they are toast.
If you aren’t suggesting that they experience other cultures, languages, and customs because you still mistakenly believe that the U.S. will continue to dominate the world stage, you’re smoking crack.
If you haven’t at least considered sending your kids overseas for a year or even explored the idea of maybe sending your kid to college somewhere other than the U.S., you are putting them at serious economic risk.
The rest of the world is rapidly catching up and if you haven’t suggested these things — neigh demanded them — your adorable rugrats are going to be slinging burgers at the Burger Doodle when suddenly thrust onto a global economic stage with these intellectually hungry students from rapidly developing countries.
Sure, there was a time when those who “spoke American” didn’t have to worry about competition from the rest of the world.
Pax Americana was the dominant paradigm.
American tourists could get away with rudely demanding that the waiter in the French bistro or the Moroccan in the bazaar talk American.
That was a benefit we enjoyed as a consequence of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency and U.S. willingness to act as the guarantor of global stability. Nothing more.
But today, countries around the globe have grown fed up with the U.S. exporting inflation abroad and Washington’s appetite for self destruction.
Since 2000, the dollar has fallen from roughly 70% of the world’s currency reserves to about 60% — a 10% loss in 13 years. It will fall much further in the years ahead.
Countries today are rapidly diversifying their holdings into yuan, euros and even gold because the U.S.’ insatiable money printing coupled with the never ending political shit show in Washington is slowly leading to a loss of confidence in the dollar and even the U.S. itself.
Not surprisingly, the rest of the world is looking at alternatives.
And the signs are everywhere…
China and Japan are now using their own currencies to conduct bilateral trade.
The BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India & China) are now using their own currencies when trading with each other.
China and Russia have quietly signed agreements to use their own currencies in bilateral trade.
As Pax Americana continues to wane, it’s precisely the type of millennials like my precocious seatmate on Copa Airlines who will have the world by the balls – kids with a global perspective and a superior understanding of other cultures, languages and customs.
They are the ones who will be able to quickly capitalize on economic opportunity wherever it can be found. Not just in their birth country.
As a parent it’s time to seriously ask yourself… Will your kid measure up? Will they be able to compete with these hyper-competitive whippersnappers from Brazil, China, India, Panama?
I’ll leave you with this final thought…
Have your kids ever heard of this guy?
His name is Manu Chao.
He’s a Spanish/French singer who sings in Italian, Galician, Arabic, French, Spanish, English and Portuguese – often mixing multiple languages in one song.
He’s hugely popular in Europe and Latin America, and while his politics may be a bit goofy, he’s symbolic of millennials from the rest of the world today. Hungry, talented, smart, multilingual. And they are ready to take advantage of economic opportunity wherever they find it.
Metaphorically speaking, it might be worth asking yourself a very uncomfortable question: Does the worldview of your own spawn have more in common with Manu Chao…
Or with her…
¿Qué voy hacer? Je ne sais pas