Gaining Perspective at TEDxUCIrvine

Marlon Castillo | New University

We’ve all traveled somewhere at some point in our lives.

For some, that might mean a flight to Paris or a weekend in the Caribbean. For others, it could be as simple as a car ride downtown or a drive to the beach. But as we are getting our tan on, or buying our souvenirs, or seeing the sights, how much of it are we really absorbing? How much do we really see? How much do we really understand about the culture around us?

These were just some of the questions that were posed at the most recent TEDxUCIrvine conference. Building upon the “Collaborating Forward” theme of the 2013 school year, three incredible speakers from the UC Irvine community were brought in to address the symposium’s focus on “global perspective.”

For those unfamiliar with the program, TEDx is an independently organized branch of the widely popular and inspiring TED nonprofit organization. As an acronym for Technology, Education and Design, TED gathers some of the brightest minds in the world to speak at these “TED talks” to introduce the game-changing ideas and innovations of our day and age.

However, the talks are not merely a showcase of new technology and research. It is not simply a stage for the brilliant ideas that have already been thought up. It is more of a springboard, a catalyst, a display of our generation’s breakthroughs to spark the breakthroughs of the future. And it is clear that such a mentality has been fully embraced by the chapter here at UCI.

“I want our audience to feel empowered by the program and to take what they learn out into their personal lives while sharing it with others,” TEDxUCIrvine co-founder José Ramos said.

Accordingly, the theme of “global perspective” for this conference really challenged the audience to reconsider what it truly means to travel. Notable UCI alumni and figures like Dr. Les McCabe and Daniel Wehrenfennig, who is the executive director of the Olive Tree Initiative, delivered powerful discourses regarding immersive, experiential learning and how we can use this worldly knowledge to influence ourselves and resolve conflict. Dr. McCabe in particular emphasized the clear distinction between taking a vacation and going on a pilgrimage; the difference between sightseeing and sight thinking.

The last talk, and in my opinion the most inspiring of the night, was delivered by a recent UCI alumnus, Graham Michael Freeman. After graduation, Graham and a couple of his friends decided to go backpacking around the world. During their six-month trip, they traveled through countries such as Thailand, China and India, lived in a Maasai village in Kenya and swam with great white sharks in South Africa, among other things. They also started a website called International Nomads, which has now been renamed to Nomads In Touch, as a means to share their experiences with the world as they trekked through the world.

A key component of Graham’s adventure was the lack of a plan. The trip was quite literally initiated by spinning a globe and going to wherever his finger happened to land, and this free, open-minded approach served as a defining theme for his journey. With his talk, he emphasized the importance of giving yourself the freedom to discover new things along the way. Forget all the rules. Eat with your hands. Direction over destination.

“I want people to take that step back. To fully immerse yourself. Checking your expectations and comfort level at the door and putting yourself in a situation in life and experiencing it completely. Putting yourself in situations where you’re not just rushing from landmark to landmark or doing what you normally consider to be a vacation but allowing yourself to fully immersing yourself into a culture,” he said.

It would have been hard to find a person in the room afterwards that did not want to run out the door and buy the next plane ticket to nowhere. And that is precisely why clubs like TEDxUCIrvine are so powerful, being able to inspire and incite the desire for action into the hearts of the local community.

As José put it best, “what happens at TEDxUCIrvine, leaves TEDxUCIrvine.”