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Mark Jenkins

UW International Studies Scholar Lecture Series helps foster understanding of globalization

Volume 13, Number 3 | May 2012

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How would you best describe your job with National Geographic, and what do you believe can be learned from your work? My job is to have a conversation with the world. That’s what I do. And I’m never let down, never. I’m always amazed, sometimes even perplexed, at the strength of the human spirit. … Through conversation, you can find common ground. Without conversation, things cannot move forward. We all know that. Conversation is fundamental to finding common ground and avoiding such things as war. Any time that we refuse to negotiate or we refuse to have an open dialogue, we’re shutting doors to finding solutions to conflicts. I believe in constant conversation and constant negotiation. This is the path toward peace.

What’s been your biggest surprise while on assignment? I was in Papua, New Guinea, a couple years ago and moving with what may be the last humans in the world who truly live in caves. Using an interpreter, I sat down with them night after night trying to understand what their life was like. And, in the end, what they really wanted was some health care. They wanted a doctor to come up and give them antibiotics, even though they didn’t know what antibiotics were. … It was such a surprise. Here was a tribe with only 11 people left in it, after about 100 years of hiding and moving around the mountains, and what they most needed was health care. What’s the big subject in America now? What’s the battle? Health care. You go from a society where they basically own nothing—the men own a spear and the women own a bag with a pot—to the U.S, one of the most affluent societies in the world, and the needs are absolutely the same. That was a surprise but also an example of how humans are all in this together.

What is the one place you’ve visited that most reminds you of Wyoming? Tibet. I’ve spent a lot of time there, and it’s like the Wyoming of China. It’s high, dry plains and even higher snowy mountains. It’s absolutely gorgeous! For those who grew up in Wyoming, if you just land in Lhasa and then walk out of town, you feel like you’re on the high plains of Wyoming. It’s a place where I’ve always felt very much at home.

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