Nicholas Kristof, one of Matador’s favorite international journalists, has an odd opinion column in this week’s Sunday New York Times.

Photo by Alicepopkorn Feature photo by Turkairo

The crusading journalist Nicholas Kristof has long been an advocate of educational travel programs for high-school and college students. In 2006 he called for universities to offer college credit for gap year programs and independent travel.

Visionary, right? But the proposal went nowhere.

His latest column starts out on familiar ground, with Kristof criticizing American universities for their narrow approach to the study of pressing global issues:

One of the great failures of American universities is that they are far too parochial, rarely exposing students to worlds beyond our borders.

But then he gets to the sticking point….

FEAR FEAR FEAR

According to Kristof, a big part of why American students hesitate to travel is fear for their safety, so he wraps his argument for educational travel in 15 rather ridiculous travel safety tips.

Tip # 14. If terrorists finger you, break out singing “O Canada”!

Seriously?

Well, maybe if you’re a habitual visitor to Sudan, Iraq, North Korea and the Congo, it makes sense to “lift the sheet to look for bloodstains on the mattress”.

But Kristof knows as well as anyone that international travel is a safe and deeply educational experience.

His safety tips are an attention grabber, a desperate attempt at building viral buzz. The real message comes in the last tip:

Tip # 15: Don’t be so cautious that you miss the magic of escaping your comfort zone and mingling with local people and staying in their homes. The risks are minimal compared with the wonders of spending time in a small village. So take a gap year, or volunteer in a village or a slum.

And even if everything goes wrong and you are robbed and catch malaria, shrug it off — those are precisely the kinds of authentic interactions with local cultures that, in retrospect, enrich a journey and life itself.

Why is educational travel important?

Check out my essay Youth Travel Programs Are Vital To Our Security.

To read Nicholas Kristof’s complete column, check out Cum Laude In Evading Bandits.

For an organization that offers the finest student travel programs in the developing world, check out Where There Be Dragons.