- U Urso Chappell -
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Expos Inspire for Life
by Urso Chappell


Urso Chappell at the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition

The author at age 17 at the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition in New Orleans.

In homes across China, there are young people right now who don’t know what’s about to happen to them: Their lives will be affected in unexpected ways.

How do I know this? Because it happened to me as a 15-year-old, living in Atlanta in 1982.

That was the year that Knoxville, in the U.S. state of Tennessee, hosted the 1982 World’s Fair (using the term Americans tend to use for world expos). Coincidentally, it was also the first year the People’s Republic of China participated in an international exposition.

I’d heard family members talk about how my great-grandmother had been lucky enough to have attended the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, the first time China exhibited at a world expo. St. Louis, to this day, is influenced by a world’s fair held 106 years ago. People there still celebrate the anniversaries of its opening and closing days and visit the site, now a large urban park. Until Expo 2010’s opening day on May 1st, the 1904 World’s Fair has the distinction of being the largest world’s fair by area in history.

Thanks to the family stories I’d heard about 1904, I was eager to see a world’s fair for myself 78 years later.

I was not disappointed. Even though it was a rather modest expo compared to others historically, so much about the exhibits, architecture, entertainment, and general optimism conveyed throughout the site, captured my attention. I started to feel what it meant to be a world citizen. I started voraciously reading up on different world cultures hoping that, one day, I’ll someday visit the countries I was reading about, including China.

That year, I also became a lifelong student of expos: studying their history as well as visiting new ones. Expo 2010 will be my eighth world expo.

As I’ve discovered in the years since, I was not alone in being inspired. I’ve talked with many people whose lives have changed, in part, from visiting a world’s fair. People have been inspired to simply learn more about the world, to explore world music, to try exotic cuisines, change careers, and even to make world expos themselves a part of a career.

Just as watching the Olympics on television can inspire young people to become athletes, expos can have an even greater impact since direct participation is open to all. Only a relative handful of athletes get to go to the Olympics, but over a billion people worldwide have visited a world expo since the first one in London in 1851.

It’s my sincere hope that as world expos continue through the years and begin to be held in other countries that haven’t held them yet, young people in every corner of the world will have the opportunity to have their horizons broadened. There are many ways to live and many ways to think. We become better world citizens when we embrace the paradox that greater wisdom comes from exposure to seemingly contradictory worldviews.

A whole world is about to open up to the young people in China and I suspect it will have repercussions for decades to come. I like to think that, many years after Expo 2010 has closed, all kinds of people -- astronauts, filmmakers, writers, architects, diplomats, and musicians, for example – will trace their spark of inspiration to a visit along the banks of the Huangpu River.

I like to think, decades from now, a young Chinese person will be inspired by Expo 2010 to one day visit where I grew up, just as I’ve finally gotten to experience China in person. Sharing our homes and cultures is essential if we’re to have a peaceful, prosperous, and healthy world.

This article was originally published in China Daily as part of a 6-part series.
Urso Chappell | 1219 Parker Street, Unit B, Berkeley, California 94702, USA | +1.415.867.9994