“Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the Valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. And the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day” (Deut. 34:1-6).
I am personally invested in the enterprise of international education. Since the advent of air travel, the opportunities for students to learn about their world, and how they fit into, have expanded exponentially. Every academic insitution worth its salt knows that studying abroad is an extraordinarily potent and life-changing element of any student’s education.
Those who work in the field of global education are an interesting lot. Having had their appetites whet through their own international experiences, they ceaselessly encourage students to have similar experiences. They know that, students who want to be global leaders need to experience being immersed into another culture. Then, and only then, can one develop what is professionally called “intercultural competency … a crucial skill-set in today’s global workplace, where employees are more likely to interact with co-workers, vendors or customers from different cultures and countries, and need to work productively with people who have been shaped by different values, beliefs and experiences.”*
For many international education workers, their wanderlust and international mobility has afforded them exotic well-traveled lives. Most acknowledge that, with each additional cross-cultural experience, they are more comfortable everywhere.
But home nowhere.
Moses was a true international.
Moses was born into a clan of refugees. He was an illegal immigrant into Egyptian society, and grew up immersed in that culture. He looked, sounded and acted in every way like an Egyptian. He was a criminal, and a fugitive of justice, hiding out in Midian. He married into a rural family, living, working and raising a family there for 40 years. By his 80th birthday, he looked, sounded and acted in every way like a Midianite, but with residual traits of Egyptian. What he wasn’t like? A jew.
Yet he was called by God to redeem the Jewish people. He went back to Egypt, with his Midianite/Egyptian accent, and worked to see an oppressed ethnic group have their lot improved, and ultimately experience independence. He ends up the leader of this vast group of people, with whom he is ethnically connected, but culturally estranged. For forty years Moses would experience the cross-cultural morphing that comes with immersing oneself in a new people and geography.
I wish Moses could do a press conference today. Having lived a life like his, what would he have to say? He experienced political upheaval, pandemics, judicial appointments, military exercises, food distribution programs, immigration politics, natural disaster relief, border protection strategies, attacks on patriotism, religious intolerance,… He also experienced multiple levels of racial discrimation – including slavery, judicial injustice and ethnic cleansing, But he also experienced the blessings of those who received him across these lines – upper class Egyptians, middle class Midianites, and lowest-caste Jewish refugees. Talk about cross-cultural competence!
At the tender age of 120, Moses dies. His life has been one of being perpetually displaced. Always an immigrant, never completely at home, Moses dies in … of all place, Moab. Not Egypt. Not Midian. Not the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. No, he dies in an unmarked grave in the hills of a land which would have a sketchy relationship with the Israelites forever. A seemingly ignoble death experience for one of history’s most influential and interesting people.
What made Moses a brilliant internationalist? His life was centered not in the ever-changing world of global policy, but in something deeper, richer and lasting. More on that in the next blog…