Leaving is Sometimes the Best Way to Find Yourself

November 24, 2008

When Rollins Professor of Philosophy & Religion Hoyt Edge was sent to Australia to evaluate the College’s study abroad program there in 1982, he didn’t know the trip would change his life.

“I had to attend classes for a month to evaluate them,” recalled Edge. “I sat in on the Australian Aboriginal class and it blew my mind.”

Edge had done some research on Bali, Indonesia, as well as altered states of consciousness, so he spent his week of free time in Bali. Edge found the island—which simultaneously has pre-historic, Hindu-Buddhist and modern influences—to be fascinating. “It was paradise,” he said, “and I met a Balinese colleague who was interested in the same things as I was.”

The focus of Edge’s research has always centered on the question “What does it mean to be a person?”

“What opened my mind in Australia was this completely new way of understanding the self and the world,” said Edge. “What I found in Bali and among the Australian Aboriginis is a bottom up, robust, communal approach to the self. And I came to the conclusion that collectivist cultures in effect encourage more individuality than Western [Euro-American] individualism does. It was a conclusion I did not expect and just sort of opened the world.”

This collectivist approach confirms the more relational approach to the world that Edge had discovered during his research into parapsychology. “If people can communicate without intervening calls or mechanisms, it presents a world view that is more collectivist and more relational rather than emphasizing people as individuals and separate,” said Edge. “Parapsychology essentially says we are connected in ways that we don’t understand.”

He spent his sabbatical in 1990-91 serving as the guest professor at the Australian Center at the University of Melbourne and took a month during that time to renew his connection with Bali. Since then he has been traveling to “paradise” as often as possible. On several occasions, he took groups of students with him and recalls that often the actual impact of the international experience may not be apparent until years later.

“I remember one student who was going to Bali because it has some of the best surfing in the world,” said Edge. “It just appeared that he wasn’t interested in the culture, he had come to surf.” The student later completed his undergraduate degree and received his MBA from Crummer and worked in financial services for many years. Then about a year ago, Edge received an e-mail that the young man was returning to Bali to “find himself.” “It was obviously a place that had affected him in some fundamental way and when he needed to get a sort of gut check and figure out what he wanted to do with his life, he thought that Bali was the place to go. What it tells me is that we are affecting these students’ lives in ways that we don’t even know.”

Edge believes that experiencing other countries is important because it turns out that Western (Euro-American culture) individualism is virtually unique in the history of the world’s cultures … even contemporary cultures.

“You can’t understand yourself as an American, unless you look at America from the perspective of another culture,” said Edge. “And you don’t know yourself until you have that mirror and begin to understand what your own assumptions are and your own context in the world. It gives you a perspective you can’t get any other way.”

Hoyt Edge, interim director of international initiatives, was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. He completed his undergraduate and graduate studies at Stetson University and his doctorate at Vanderbilt University. He took his first teaching job at Rollins in 1970 and decided to make Rollins his career. Edge will soon head back to Bali to spend his sabbatical rediscovering the magic and the cultural aspects of the island paradise that he fell in love with more than 25 years ago.

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