All Commentary
Tuesday, June 1, 1971

To a Student from Abroad

Mr. Hercz, retired after 26 years of Army service, recently earned a Master’s degree in History in preparation for teaching.


I am glad to hear that you are enjoying your stay in this country and are profiting by your schooling. You say you are impressed by our great cities, the wealth of our ordinary citizens and their friend­liness. This is not surprising, considering that you come from a relatively more primitive land. America was like that not long ago. You say you would like to stay and live here; but if you did you would probably find that our people are much like those everywhere else. There are a few bad ones, some energetic ones who try to improve things according to their own various ideas, and a great majority who passively accept the leadership and example of one or the other of these natural leaders.

You were sent here, not so much to learn our ways, as to learn how to help improve your own country. You cannot convert your community into a replica of America, nor is there any reason why you should try. The people of each community have their own characteristics, standards, and ideals. Rather than try to imitate America as it is now, I suggest you study our early and frontier development to find what lessons, methods, and institutions were successfully used then in the process of our development. Some of these methods may be adaptable to the objectives and conditions of your own country. Hopefully, other ideas will suggest themselves to you which are specifically applicable in your own case.

Don’t expect, when you return, that people will eagerly await your words of wisdom, all set to work and promptly convert the area into the idealized model you have in mind for them. There will be some positive opposition to change, a lot of indifference, and in some cases older and more experienced heads who have different ideas as good as yours, if not better.

To start, I would suggest that you exert your influence by setting a personal example. Fix up your own home according to the stand­ards of order, convenience, and sanitation you have learned. De­velop a craft or product or provide a service which will be in demand. Start with something simple and well within your capa­bility, and maintain it at a high standard. If others start imitating you and give you competition, hopefully with improvements of their own, feel flattered that you have succeeded, not only in providing the service, but in creating a demand for it. If possible, after one success, branch out similarly into other fields. Your schooling here should start you off on many ideas. Pick the ones most appropriate to your community.

Some of your projects won’t work out. In that case, drop them and try something else. Many of your efforts will be ridiculed, especially when they fail. When they do succeed, someone else will try to take the credit. Don’t let this discourage you. If you succeed in your programs and manage to raise your own standard of living above that of the rest of the people, envy and jealousy are likely to cause disagreeable incidents. This is the inevitable reaction of those who want the benefits of progress without contributing to it. You will have to take your satisfaction by observing the progress of your imitators and the benefits derived from the use of your innovations. I do wish you every success.


Arthur R. Hercz