Toothbrush People - travel essays by Don Gogniat and Valerie White

Half way through the voyages he sailed with the Semester at Sea, cultural geography professor Don Gogniat liked to lecture his students while holding a toothbrush. He asked them to reflect on their journey so far – the experiences they had and, especially, the people they met.

Then he held up his toothbrush and asked them to think about the one stranger they’d interacted with who they thought they’d remember for the rest of their lives. The individual they’d think about every time they brushed their teeth.

He told the students that that stranger in a land far away was their toothbrush person, then he asked them to write about the interaction.

“Toothbrush People: American College Students’ Personal Experiences with Poverty, Inequalities, Humility and Kindness” is a compilation of those real-life encounters students had with strangers in other countries and cultures – how they internalized the interaction. Why it was important. In the second portion of the book, these same students reflect on their Toothbrush Person years after their first meeting.

In “Toothbrush People,” editors Don Gogniat and Valerie White hope to reinforce the long-term impact and importance of international travel and education through the first-person accounts of students participating in the Semester At Sea  program.

While reading these stories, appreciate the relevance of an international educational experience as part of a college degree program. This book depicts only one memory from their adventures abroad. Undoubtedly there have been a multitude of such encounters throughout the Semester at Sea. These experiences prepare a person to be able to both better understand and fit into a globalized world.

We will benefit as a country if our future leaders meet and interact with people from many countries and many cultures.

Unfortunately, these students are far from typical.

From a 2010 report prepared by the Institute of International Education, they state: “Just over 1 percent of all U.S. students enrolled in U.S. higher education at any academic level typically study abroad during any single academic year. Among students pursuing Bachelor’s degrees, about 14 percent study abroad at some point during their undergraduate programs.”

This book will encourage students, parents, faculty, and administrators to support and promote education abroad programs.