Global Connections from the South — by Deb Hunter

Growing up in a small Tennessee town with a population of 1500 people never stopped me from dreaming about traveling the globe to visit other countries. I wished to learn about the languages, manners, and native dress of other countries. I longed for the adventure of exploring the differences in food, history and religion in cultures and societies around the world.

As a child I read incessantly about how other countries “did things”. At school I won awards for ‘current events’. I wanted to know what was going on everywhere! I waited patiently until Saturday night when a local TV station played reruns of BBC shows like “The Saint” and “The Avengers”, or ran broadcasts of older James Bond movies. I watched Saturday sports on TV and learned about Formula One Racing, Alpine Skiing, Speed Skating and Martial Arts. At an early age I learned that dreams, reading and the media could take you anywhere!

Then, I grew up. As my career began to accelerate, I was fortunate to visit the places I had always dreamed about … Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, Monte Carlo. The Caribbean is another destination that I will always treasure. How can the granddaughter of a coal miner ever forget visiting the Souk of Tunisia, or walking the Marble Road that Cleopatra took when visiting Ephesus? The lunar-like landscape of Haleakalā in Maui and the sharp contrast to the paradise beaches of Maui is another experience that will forever be in my memory. These experiences were all so unique and even better than the dreams I had as a child. (The best adventure of all was a trip to London where I meet my handsome British husband, who remarkably has a very Sean Connery-James Bond accent.) Was it a coincidence, or the multi-cultural influence brought about by the curiosity of my childhood?

As my own life has changed, so has life in the South. The changes in the Southeastern US have been phenomenal over the last few years, with Atlanta setting the pace to make the Southeast THE portal of global industry in the US. How can we best utilize the advantages currently being offered by global expansion in business? Certainly everyone who will visit Atlanta has heard of Coca-Cola. How can we ask new-comers to compare ‘seeing seven states’ when they have seen the pyramids, or the Great Wall of China or Mt. Kilimanjaro? How can we as Southerners best utilize our region’s beauty and natural resources, as well as our own hospitality, to best advance our region’s economy and growth?

According to Global Atlanta the new expansion of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal, or Concourse F, will add new 12 gates, connecting with Concourse E to form a 40-gate international complex. It will also provide access to the airport from Interstate 75 and remove the need for passengers to recheck their bags when arriving from abroad. “The international terminal will strengthen Atlanta’s position as the capital of the Southeast and a vital global gateway for the United States,” says Atlanta’s Mayor Kasim Reed.

The South has always been very insular, and as everyone knows, very controversial. However, on the positive side, there is a natural curiosity in Southerners. Education is the key to satisfying that curiosity. Education is the foundation of what has been evolving in Atlanta, and is what is currently being experienced in Atlanta. That knowledge is gradually spreading throughout the Southeast. As people grow to learn more about other cultures and ways of life, and other cultures move into the Atlanta area, what I am personally experiencing and perceiving in others is a desire to learn, and a desire to share. Southerners are also known for our friendly disposition. Atlanta is unique. In Atlanta, no one really cares where you are from—Atlanta is just glad that you are here right now and enjoying Atlanta! Once you are in Atlanta, you will find that Atlanta Georgia is your hometown!

What I’m currently seeing—quite literally from my window—is construction – four cranes, new buildings rising in the Midtown area. I can also see the steeples and spires of churches, the campus of Georgia Tech, the domes of a mosque, homes in the distance and also the tallest building in Atlanta. In the upcoming years, the hub of Atlanta will grow, making an “avenue” of industry and culture from Macon, Savannah, and Atlanta, GA onward through Tennessee reaching Nashville and all points in between. Our area will become a mega-tropolis. The world is on its way here! Will you be ready? Will you welcome the newcomers as you would wish to be welcomed in a faraway place?

My question to you is this: will you—as native Southerners, or you— as newcomers to Atlanta and our region in the Southeast US, learn one new thing from each person that you meet from a different culture? If we will each learn at least one thing about another person from another culture, we will all move one step forward in our journey of understanding through cultural and economic diversity and development.

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