Travel

Dollar Street: A virtual trip around the world to fight xenophobia

By: Lykke E. Andersen*

A phobia is an irrational fear of something. We all suffer from phobias of some kind. My worst phobia is arachnophobia, which is one of the reasons I love living in the (almost) safe haven of La Paz. Instead of trying to confront and overcome my irrational fear, I chose to run away. If I hadn’t found La Paz, I would probably be working as a scientist in Antarctica (which still sounds like a very attractive option to me).

So, although some of my friends consider me excessively rational, I can understand and empathise with people who suffer from irrational fears. Our brains are far from being rational, and are still dominated by emotions that were useful during our evolution over the last several hundred thousand years.

One of those emotions that were useful in our evolutionary past is xenophobia: a deep-rooted fear of foreigners. For most of our evolutionary history, it is quite likely that strangers were very bad news indeed, so this instinct made a lot of sense.

The xenophobia instinct is still very much with us, but it makes little sense anymore in this globalized, integrated, and relatively civilized world. Most foreigners you might meet probably want to work for you, trade with you, or help you in some other ways. Less than one in a million is out to kill you. Your benefit from interacting with foreigners outweigh the risks many thousand times. So it is indeed an irrational fear now.

Anna Rosling (photographer; co-founder of Gapminder; one of Bill Gates’ Heroes in the Field; and daughter-in-law of my biggest hero ever) has made a really nice attempt to alleviate our irrational fear of foreigners, in a safe and comfortable way, with her Dollar Street project. The project visited 264 families in 50 countries and collected 30,000 photos in order to show us normal life for normal families in many different dimension of ordinary life. This, of course, is in sharp contrast to the regular news we receive, which always show us the extremes, and thus give us a completely distorted image of the world. Her point is that people from other countries and cultures are not nearly as strange as they seem to us in the news.

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Migration Restrictions as a Barrier to Development

Living abroad is undoubtedly one of life’s most enjoyable, interesting, and eye-opening experiences. By stimulating economic growth and cultural exchange, it is also something that literally and figuratively enriches entire nations and the world as a whole. So, does placing restrictions on cross-border migration present a possible barrier to economic and human development?

My parents are originally from Hong Kong and emigrated to the U.K. during the 1960s, along with many thousands of other Hong Kong citizens. My mother arrived without knowing a word of English yet was welcomed warmly by the medical training school that she attended. She stayed in the U.K., working as a nurse for nearly 40 years, while others chose to return to Hong Kong, taking back with them the education, training and experience that they had acquired abroad.

Following in my parents’ international footsteps, for the past couple of years I have lived and worked in Spain. Aside from some logistical and social obstacles – such as finding a new house, making new friends, and learning a new language – the process of emigrating and starting a job there was pretty simple. For many people, however, emigrating abroad, permanently or temporarily, is much more difficult as many countries have strict immigration constraints against the inflow of citizens of certain nations.

The extent of this problem is illustrated by the results of a survey conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) and the French Agency for Development (AFD), who collected data from 146 countries between 2008 and 2010. They found that roughly 630 million adults, around 14 percent of all adults in the world, said that they would like to move to another country permanently if they had the opportunity. Findings from the Gallup World Poll also revealed that around 1.2 million people wanted to migrate temporarily for work purposes. However, only ten percent of the people who said they would like to migrate were actually planning to do so in the following year. Clearly, there is something preventing the other 90 percent from pursuing their dream of migrating. Read More »

The empowered backpacker

Although backpackers often look bedraggled and like they haven’t bought any new clothes for years, it is definitely a rich man’s hobby.  To travel you have to save. You need to have the money to live, often for months on end, a lifestyle where you stay in hotels, eat in restaurants and pay entry fees to various tourist attractions. Anyone who has been on holiday knows that these costs add up. In fact, for an average American household they apparently add up to us$1,200 per person per summer vacation.

Most people do not have this kind of money. Young people all around the world desperately try and save from their pitiful minimum wage earnings so they can go “backpacking”. But many of them fail. In the end, they find it impossible to resist those Friday night calls imploring them to go for an end of the week beer or, more commonly, just feel the money is better spent at home.

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