My fascination with international relations began as a small child when my father would play the “map game” with us. He would take the large atlas off the shelf and we would lie on the floor with our heads hovering over the map of some distant land. We would plan an extended expedition to the Alps, or Africa, and talk about all of the things we would see and do when we got there, and what kind of currency or clothing we would need. The seeds he planted grew deep roots, and all seven of his children became student voyagers or international backpackers of sorts.
I dabbled in French and Spanish during high school, but my linguistic talents were latent at best. By the time I reached BYU in 1983, my older sister Lori had already graduated with an IR degree and spent considerable time studying abroad. My very naïve approach to college manifested itself when a good friend asked me what classes I had signed up for my first semester. After going through a list of classes such as geography of the world, Chinese 101, and several upper division classes, he laughed at me and told me I could not take them. Growing incensed, I demanded to know why. “You have to take classes within your major to graduate,” was all he said.
The BYU catalog listed all the majors and my classes fit very nicely under the heading “International Relations (IR).” That was it. I showed him my new-found major and he laughed at me again. It was then that I learned that “prerequisite” courses were required before matriculating in upper-division courses. It took three tries to pass PlSc 200. That TA was so pedantic about things that only he, Stan Taylor, and Kate Turabian thought were important! I found a recovery group for people who had been traumatized by comma-splice errors and failing to double space after a colon. We met in the “old” Lee library and drifted through the stacks in a semi-silent stupor, muttering things like “Who cares how many flush toilets there were in Pakistan in 1973. Burkina Faso? I can’t find Burkina Faso—it’s not in this stupid book!” I am so glad I took (and finally passed) PlSc 200. What I discovered was that life was not about arguing with TAs over minutiae; life was about expecting excellence from myself and correcting errors along the way. What a great lesson.
After a two-year mission to Brazil, the latent language gene kicked in and my paradigms changed. Living with and serving the wonderful Brazilian people taught me something so incredibly basic that had eluded me in college. I was trying to study language out of context. Language was more than connecting nouns and verbs and dissecting sentences during an audio lab. I had to be immersed in the culture of a people and see how they lived life and made decisions before I could ever hope to speak another language. Language embodies a people’s hopes, dreams, desires, aspirations, and destiny. This, I discovered, was the essence of an IR education.
The most valuable tools that IR studies provided me were the ability to form opinions based on personal research and a desire to look outside the box for new parameters and dimensions to life’s problems and questions. As graduation approached, the reality of paying bills and taking care of my young family loomed large on the horizon. I started looking for a career that encompassed the wonderful things I learned as a student that paid more than eight dollars an hour to start. I remember sitting in a room at the Wilkinson Center with two or three hundred fellow students as we listened to the FBI, CIA, and foreign service representatives tell us about careers that paid just above the poverty level and required a master’s degree.
Although my wife and I felt destined to work in the foreign service, it was not to be. We had decided to educate our children by letting them experience new cultures, but we would not be doing it via the U.S. Government.
When I was feeling quite desperate, it was then that I understood a new life lesson: often life does not provide a neat set of blue-prints with a complete plan ready for implementation.
I call this the Nephi Principle. Nephi understood that getting his family to the promised land was not just about transportation and travel arrangements. Nephi had to bang the iron out of the rock, make tools, and then God would show him how to work the timbers from time to time. That has to be a little bit like PlSc 200! I love applying lessons from the Book of Mormon to understand current events and twists and turns that life provides. IR provided me with incredible tools, but my wife and I were to use those tools in new ways.
The Nephi Principle aside, one must still feed his family! As we prepared to relocate to Phoenix and attend Thunderbird Institute (an international management school), we were led a very different direction. The road less-traveled makes all the difference. A medical software company hired me to train doctors in the use of computerized diagnostic equipment. Within six months, I was deeply entrenched in a large, integrative medical practice in Las Vegas, Nevada, helping to develop new tests for chronically ill patients. Two years later, we developed new equipment and software that has enhanced doctors’ ability to diagnose such things as chronic mercury toxicity, pesticide poisoning, and chemical exposure. The more I learned, the more I wanted to care for patients myself. The only thing in my way was the lack of a medical degree and a few laws that needed to be fixed.
PlSc 200 taught me how to research laws, and I began putting those IR tools to work. With a small group, I wrote new legislation in Nevada that provided for two new categories of medical practitioners. Based on laws in California for medical assistants and physicians’ assistants, this new Nevada law was the first in the nation to regulate homeopathic assistants and advanced practitioners of homeopathy. The State of Arizona passed a very similar bill a year after our bill became law in Nevada. Working on that piece of legislation was exhilarating.
Since finishing a degree in IR at BYU, my studies have taken me to the British Institute of Homoeopathy in London, where I earned a diploma in homeopathic medicine. Commuting from Las Vegas to Los Angeles on weekends, I eventually finished a master’s and a PhD in homeopathy from Curentur University. For the last twelve years, I have been privileged to practice at the Nevada Clinic under the tutelage of F. Fuller Royal, MD.
Now it seems that the road less-traveled is taking me to the West Indies, where I will complete my MD degree in allopathic medicine. This time, however, my wife and I are doing this with six children! We try to put our family first, and, in spite of the educational demands placed on us, we seem to be succeeding. It is my hope to develop new distance-based learning programs for medical students via the Internet.
The Foreign Service never quite materialized for us, but the desire for international experiences is still as strong as ever. We homeschool our children and travel is an important component of our curriculum. In March 2001, two of my sons and I traveled throughout Guatemala for several days. They kept careful journals (well, as careful as you can when you’re eight and ten years old) about their experiences. One of the things they noticed immediately was the conspicuous absence of flush toilets. My wife and daughter were scheduled to volunteer in a Peruvian orphanage when the earthquake delayed their plans. Suffice it to say, the IR spirit is alive and well in our home. It brings me great joy that one of our favorite family games is still the “map game.”
It is my belief that IR students and professionals have much in common with Nephi. We study cultures, languages, political systems, and economics, and then we try to apply it, teach it, and improve upon it. At times, life is viewed as a goal that must be achieved or a degree that must be obtained, but the Nephi Principle reminds us that it is the process that provides the wisdom. Joy happens while we journey— not just when we arrive. Upon the wall over my desk are several framed diplomas reminding me of roads less-traveled. The truth is that I will always be an IR student trying to understand such imponderables as why people get sick, why countries get sick, how people in Kosovo, Iraq, North Korea, or Washington, D.C., think, and less importantly, why people with thirty items in their cart get into the express-checkout line at the grocery store.