Speaker shares stories of abroad roads less traveled

Aaron Mudd

Professor and director of the School of Journalism and Broadcasting Loup Langton added his name to the list of speakers in the Far Away Places speakers on Thursday night. The series, hosted by the WKU Libraries, has hosted 80 speakers since it’s inception, featuring individuals sharing stories from Chile to Taiwan and many other places.

Sydnie Driskill, a freshman from Greenville, Ky., was motivated to attend the latest presentation by her western civilization professor. 

“I decided to come here cause I thought it might be interesting,” she said. “I’m always interested in learning about different parts of the world and what people experience when they go there.”

In his lecture, Langton discussed his journeys abroad. Audience members chuckled at Langton’s anecdotes about hitchhiking across Europe and listened to his experiences photographing Haiti, Egypt and Ecuador.

His talk was presented as a casual chat with students and community members while he sat in a chair.

“I just want to tell stories,” Langton said. “I’m not presenting research. I’m not showing a portfolio of photographs. It’s just stories for places that I’ve been, and hopefully you’ll feel some of the entertainment that I’ve felt, joy and the pain for these different places.”

Starting with a word of caution, Langton advised students not take some of the risks he took.

“I want to make sure I’m not recommending taking some of the paths that I’ve taken in terms of travel,” he said. “It’s sometimes been a little reckless particularly when I was straight out of undergraduate school. I think there’s a phrase that says something about God protects drunks and sailors they should add idiots as well.”

Langton first traveled to Europe to stay with his mother’s best friend in Copenhagen, Denmark. His mother competed in the Miss Universe competition and her friend was Miss Denmark. After staying with his mother’s friend and her family, Langton traveled to Hanover, Germany where he stayed with a hospitable German he met while hitchhiking.

“He had a Mercedes Benz,” Langton said. “I arrived at his house and he said ‘Well here are the keys to my car. I own the business across the street. The refrigerator is yours. Here’s the room. I’ll be leaving for work early tomorrow. Take the car, and do whatever you want.’”

Later in the summer, after getting into several other adventures, Langton rejoined with some people he met before visiting his mother’s friend in Denmark. Together they sailed for three days across the Adriatic Sea. The sea, which lies between Italy and Albania, is known to be stormy.

“They taught me to sail enough so that they were confident that they said to me ‘You have the shift from two o’clock in the morning until six o’clock in the morning. There’s the compass. Stay on this heading. Let us know if there’s anything that comes up. We’ll be asleep below,’” Langton said. “I have to say it was a transcendental experience.”

In the complete darkness of the Adriatic, Langton saw shooting stars and satellites clearly in the night sky.

“You can’t really describe it. You can’t really put it into words,” he said. “It’s a feeling that you get of being one with everything and everything being one with you. That feeling, I have carried all these years.”

His trip to Europe taught Langton a lesson he sees as highly important.

“I have to say this whole trip had—for me—to do with brother-sisterhood because it was all that kind of interaction,” he said.

His trip to Haiti taught him other lessons.

“For me Haiti was all about the spirituality and the children,” he said. “And of course the poverty.”

The situation in Haiti at the time he visited angered Langton. Langton said that people in control didn’t want Haitians to have an election and regularly assailed a presidential candidate with hand grenades and guns.

Langton spoke about his friendship with Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former Catholic priest and the first democratically elected Haitian president. He described how Aristide was threatened. People burned down his church and tried to kill him.

“Probably the bravest person I’ve ever met in my life,” he said. “He’s probably all of five feet two inches.”

The day before Langton left Haiti, Aristide said something to him that stuck with him.

“I said take care of yourself,” Langton said. Pulling some skin on his hand, he quoted his friend Aristide. “What is this? This is skin. It’s nothing. If they kill me I’ll be ten times more powerful. This is absolutely nothing.”

While working in the Middle East, Langton described an experience with a Bedouin girl dying of cancer alone. He described the people of the Middle East as diverse and often conflicting.

“You can’t look at peoples of the Middle East as just peoples of the Middle East,” he said. “There all of these different groups. It’s a mosaic.”

Langton said the Bedouin are not accepted by anyone. The girl in the hospital had even been abandoned by her family. He began sitting with her each day even though he spoke no Arabic.

“For me, it was a moving experience, and I hoped that it would give her some sense of comfort each day,” he said.

Although she was still alive when Langton left the hospital, the doctor told him she only had six months to live.

At the close of his talk, Langton dedicated it to his late mother who passed away three weeks ago. It was his mother’s connection to her friend in Europe that first motivated him to travel there.

In his talk, Langton encouraged audience members to experience foreign cultures directly.

“Skip the five star places or maybe even the three star places and travel the back-roads and actually meet people,” he said.

WKU’s diplomat-in-residence Michael McClellan knows Langton personally and wanted to attend to get a copy of Langton’s book.

“I’m a huge believer in encouraging young people to get international experience and study abroad, work abroad, travel abroad, read books about the abroad—anything they can to broaden their international experience,” McClellan said.