Outside In

Expo helps inspire youth

By Urso Chappell (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-04-19 09:18
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In homes across China, there are young people who don't know what's about to happen to them and how their lives will be affected in unexpected ways.

How do I know this? Because it happened to me as a 15-year-old living in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1982.

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That was the year Knoxville, in the US state of Tennessee, hosted the World's Fair (using the term Americans tend to use for World Expo). Coincidentally, it was also the first year the People's Republic of China participated in an Expo.

I'd heard family members talk about how my great grandmother had been lucky enough to visit the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St Louis, the first time China exhibited at a World Expo. St. Louis, to this day, is influenced by a World Expo held 106 years ago.

People there still celebrate the anniversaries of its opening and closing days and visit the site, now a large urban park. Until Expo 2010's opening day on May 1, the 1904 Expo has the distinction of being the largest by area in history.

Thanks to the family stories I'd heard about 1904, I was eager to see a World Expo for myself.

I was not disappointed. Even though it was a rather modest Expo compared to others in previous years, so much about the exhibits, architecture, entertainment and general optimism conveyed throughout the site captured my imagination. I started to feel what it meant to be a world citizen.

I started voraciously reading up on different world cultures, hoping that one day I'd visit the countries I was reading about, including China.

That year, I also became a lifelong student of Expos, studying their history as well as visiting them. Expo Shanghai 2010 will be my eighth World Expo.

As I've discovered, I was not alone in being inspired. I've talked with many people whose lives have changed, in part, from visiting a World Expo. People have been inspired to learn more about the world, to explore world music, to try exotic cuisines, change careers, and even to make World Expo part of a career.

Watching the Olympics on television can inspire young people to become athletes, World Expo can have an even greater impact, since direct participation is open to all. Only a relative handful of athletes get to go to the Olympics, but over a billion people have visited a World Expo since the first in London in 1851.

It's my sincere hope that as World Expo continues through the years, young people from around the world will get the opportunity to broaden their horizons. There are many ways to live and many ways to think. We become better world citizens when we embrace the paradox that greater wisdom comes from exposure to seemingly contradictory worldviews.

A whole world is about to open up to the young people in China and I suspect it will have repercussions for decades to come.

I like to think that, many years after Expo 2010 has closed, all kinds of people - astronauts, filmmakers, writers, architects, diplomats, musicians - will trace their spark of inspiration back to a visit to an event along the banks of the Huangpu River.

I like to think, decades from now, a young Chinese person will be inspired by Expo 2010 to one day visit where I grew up, just as I've finally gotten to experience China in person. Sharing our homes and cultures is essential if we're to have a peaceful, prosperous and healthy world.

The author is an American who has attended seven World Expos. He is the founder of ExpoMuseum.com and co-host of The World's Fair Podcast.



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