By BRANDON OLAND
The Carroll County Times
WESTMINISTER, Md. (AP) — When McDaniel College president Roger Casey ate his Christmas dinner in December, he dined outdoors near a pool at a Oman hotel overlooking the Strait of Hormuz.
To his surprise, the chorus of “Jingle Bells” could be heard in one of the most conservative Muslim countries in the Middle East.
While he dined with his wife Robyn Allers, servers from the Philippines and a Hindu guitar player from India serenaded the crowd.
“That,” he said, “is the world we live in now.”
Communications are improving. Economies are advancing. Cultures are blending. Casey knows that first-hand. During his academic career, he’s visited 80 countries in a quest to learn more about how other cultures and communities function.
During McDaniel’s winter break, he spent three weeks in the Middle East. He spent Christmas in Jordan. He also visited the rapidly developing economies in oil-rich nations like the United Arab Emirates and Dubai, home to the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.
The gulf trading post turned massive metropolis, features an enormous shopping mall near the Burj Khalifa with a skating rink and waterfall at the center.
When returning to the United States, Casey appreciated the grandeur of what he experienced.
“It was the first time I flew into New York City and it seemed small,” Casey said of his return flight.
Once students leave campus for their holiday break, Casey is free to go where he chooses. Rather than visit family and friends or take a vacation to a traditional tourist getaway, Casey gets outside his comfort zone and finds a new culture to explore.
This year, it was the Middle East. Last year, it was India and Qatar. He’s witnessed poverty in India and tremendous wealth and opportunity in Dubai. Casey wants the McDaniel College students to grasp the world around them, he said, and many of the professors they will encounter have traveled extensively just like he has.
Casey is fascinated by small countries with robust, powerful economies, including areas like Qatar and Singapore. And while the world is advancing, he said, the United States remains a cut above.
“Despite all the pronouncements, I certainly do not believe the U.S. is dead by any means,” he said. “I still believe we have the finest, most creative, higher education system in the world. And I think our culture tends to produce some of the most creative and talented people in the world. I see no reason why that’s not going to continue.”
While growing up in rural South Carolina, Casey’s family did not venture far from home. A significant trip was to the coastal community of Myrtle Beach. Until he took a college trip to London, he had never been on a plane.
During his career in academia, he’s visited all 50 states and traveled all over the world.
When he accepted the McDaniel College job, he was vacationing in Northern Laos in a rural town that his guide book said did not have electricity. Turns out, the town just added rudimentary means of power, mostly so the people there could charge cell phones.
“And I had four bars,” Casey said of the excellent cell phone coverage.
While Casey can regularly be spotted at campus events, he is constantly on the go. After returning from the Middle East, he visited with McDaniel alumni in Florida and attended a NCAA conference in Texas.
With the spring semester under way, Casey is back on campus, for now. Yet when Christmas rolls around once more, he’s sure to have a passport in hand and a flight to catch.
No matter where he goes, he’s likely to see Christmas lights and Santa.
While scrolling through photos of his Middle East trip on his iPhone, Casey pointed to a familiar figure entering a Jordanian business.
“Look who visited,” he said.
It was Santa Claus, red suit, white beard and all.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)