JACKSON, Tenn. – Sept. 30, 2009 – The United States’ global prestige is rebounding after a major decline in recent years, and college students can contribute to that rebound significantly in the future, according to a BBC correspondent who spoke at Union University Sept. 30.
Katty Kay, co-presenter of BBC World news bulletins and the Washington correspondent for BBC World News America, spoke in the Carl Grant Events Center as part of the 11th annual Union Forum luncheon lecture series.
“Get out and see the world,” Kay said to the Union students in attendance. “Forget that well paying job in New York for six months or a year and hit the sidewalks in New Delhi instead. It will enrich your lives, and it will show other people the very best of this country.”
A regular guest commentator on NBC’s Meet the Press and the Chris Matthews Show, Kay was raised and educated in the Middle East, where her father was a British diplomat. She offered an often-overlooked international perspective on U.S. events and headlines, providing a candid look at America through an international prism.
After graduating from Oxford, Kay lived in Zimbabwe where she began her career with the BBC. She also lived in Tokyo before moving to Washington. One of the topics Kay addressed was America’s standing in the world and the global opinion of President Obama.
“Clearly, the intractable problems around the world – Iran, Afghanistan, the Middle East, the Palestinians, the Israelis, North Korea – these are very difficult issues,” Kay said. “I think there were many around the world who thought that President Obama would come along not just like a rock star, but a bit like God and fix everything with a magic wand. They were wrong to think that.
“There is a reason we haven’t solved these problems. They are devilishly hard to solve, and they will take many years to solve.” One thing that has changed, however, is the global perception of the United States, Kay said.
“Traveling abroad this year I’ve seen a remarkable shift in attitude toward your country,” she said. “Polls here suggest that some of the gleam is coming off the Obama administration. That is certainly not the case in Europe.”
Kay said it’s no secret that the United States’ reputation suffered dramatically during the Bush administration, fueled in part by negative reaction to the Iraq war and also fueled by some “intellectually lazy crazy-talk” that she said was often unfair toward America. Part of the problem, she suggested, is that “everyone from Singapore to Switzerland thinks that they are an expert” on the United States.
“But I don’t think that this breakdown in U.S. relations with other countries is permanent,” Kay observed. “America has begun to regain some of its global prestige.”
Kay pointed to unity in the international community over Iran as evidence of America’s recovery, and she suggested that any worldwide anti-Americanism won’t last long, because young Americans are almost twice as likely as their parents’ generation to have passports, and to use them.
“At the heart of anti-Americanism is often ignorance,” Kay said. “But by the simple fact of buying a backpack, filling it up, getting that plane ticket and going to see another country, you can help change that. You will also discover the most important fact about education, and that’s that it doesn’t stop at Union University’s door. The joy of learning is that it is a lifelong process.”