A ticket to Cairo

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As a college student living in Cairo for the past four and a half months, I’ve had a lot of little life lessons drilled into me: always hoard small change, make sure to have a written will before crossing streets, and when it comes to food, you get what you pay for.

But my experiences here – both as a student of a foreign language and culture, and as a volunteer English teacher – have also driven home a more fundamental point: education is opportunity.

I attended Mahtomedi High School when it still had the resources to offer a full education. I participated in varsity sports, joined the drama club, and played in the jazz band. I had motivated, well-qualified teachers in math, science, English, and history. My school offered foreign languages from the beginning through the AP level.

My teachers and counselors made it very clear that continuing on to some type of college education was an important next step, both for my educational development and for my economic well-being. The more education I had, the more opportunities would be available to me.

Teaching English in Cairo was a very different experience. My volunteer program staffed and led by students from my host Egyptian university. We ran our classes out of a run-down basement apartment with a finicky electricity supply and a seriously backed-up toilet. My students were refugees from the Sudan and other parts of Africa, many of them were fluent in two or three other languages.

At the start of class, my teaching partner and I asked them why they wanted to learn English. The answer was very straightforward: English is the language of opportunity, both social and economic. And for them, investing their time and their money in education was the key to that opportunity. My students were doing their best to position themselves for success.

In this case, what was true for me in high school and was true for my students in Cairo, is true for the state of Minnesota. Education is about opportunity.

International trade is an indispensable part of Minnesota’s economy. According to 2007 Office of Trade and Industry Information (http://tse.export.gov) data, Minnesota exported $67,827,767 worth of goods to North Africa, and $300,041,289 worth of goods to the Middle East. (Egypt has never really made up its mind which region it belongs too). This is not to mention Minnesota’s more publicized trading partners, India ($126,501,541 in 2007) and China ($1,043,009,811 in that same year), which have been the recent destination of an official trade mission and the target of a statewide trade initiative. This permanent feature of Minnesota’s future is a challenging and dynamic area. Opportunities for progress and innovation are created and, if no one takes them, squandered on a daily basis.

So what does our state need to take full advantage of our opportunities? How do we position ourselves for success?

Education. Education. Education.

Looking back, my road to Cairo started in a Minnesota public school. And this is where our state’s international future will be made: in classrooms across Minnesota.

We are able to trade internationally for a very simple reason: we have something that someone else wants. We are able to produce and export a wide range of goods, from high-tech to medical to agricultural, in part because our state has historically been committed to providing the best in public education, from the elementary to the doctoral levels. Educational investment underpins our international successes.

The equation is very simple: education translates directly into opportunity – and the more opportunities we have, the more chances we get to move our state forward.