When looking at most world maps, we take for granted our points of reference. North is up, south is down, and the U.S. is in the top left corner, just as it was when we first learned geography in grade school. Not everyone, though, subscribes to this point of view.
For decades, a group of trailblazing mapmakers has tried changing the world as we know it by changing how we see it. Their so-called reversed maps depict what seems like an upside-down world, where countries in the Southern Hemisphere have supplanted their neighbors to the north. The underlying message is that the perch from which we view the world is an arbitrary one. North is still north, of course, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it should be at the top of the map. Nor should countries at the top be considered “above” everyone else—either literally or figuratively.
After graduating from college, I learned this firsthand, but without the aid of a reversed map. Torn over my job prospects (or lack thereof), I did what many 22-year-olds with wanderlust do: pick a place on the globe and go. Joined by a couple of friends, I set out for Chile, a country I knew very little about, with the intention of staying a year. My thought was that I would teach English to pay the bills and travel around South America at every opportunity, all while brushing up on my Spanish.
I ended up doing all of these things, but the experience as a whole left a much deeper impression on me than I ever could have imagined. During the course of the year, I made lifelong friends and gained a lasting appreciation for the culture. I also came to realize that my preconceived notions of what it means to be American were limited at best. In truth, our New World neighbors have rightful claim to that name as well, for in spite of our differences, we share a corner of the world with a common pioneering spirit.
Of all the discoveries I made that year abroad, I probably learned the most about myself. It’s ironic that I had to travel halfway around the globe to get to know the person in the mirror better, but that’s exactly what happened. Finding a new vantage point from which to view the world afforded me a much better understanding of my place in it.
I imagine the inaugural class of the new Americas MBA for Executives program, which is discussed in this issue’s cover story, will come to a similar realization. One of the program’s main selling points is the exposure to business practices in Brazil, Mexico and Canada, but the unspoken value is the personal journey that will accompany those experiences. By immersing themselves in those cultures, the students will be letting go of the familiar and looking at the world—and themselves—with a whole new perspective.
In other words, they’ll be doing those trailblazing mapmakers proud.