Utah? Where's that?
Somewhere in the western United States, next to California. No, Nevada. Or maybe Arizona?
What's there? Mormons. A big, salty lake. Empty space. Deserts and red rocks. National parks. The Rocky Mountains.
What is Utah known for? Pioneers and polygamists. Great skiing. Watery beer and green Jell-O. Stupendous scenery. Friendly folk and fry sauce. Sundance, salt flats, and scandals. Gun-toting cowboys. Robert Redford. The Osmonds. The name Orrin.
Perceptions. Opinions. Rumors.
How is Utah viewed by those outside its confines? Are global perceptions formed by half-truths scribbled in tabloids? By images and sound bites beamed via satellite around the world? Or are they based, however loosely, on reality?
With the 2002 Games just around the corner, Continuum called on the University's international alumni, professionals, and scholars-in the United States and abroad-to gain some insight.
The consensus is that Utah's three most outstanding features are: a friendly, helpful population, extraordinary natural wonders, and abundant outdoor recreational activities.
As to Utahns' legendary friendliness, Tongyun (Tony) Dang PhD'01 (China), currently a post-doctoral student at Duke University Medical Center, opined, with only a touch of hyperbole, "It is hard to find so many nice people elsewhere in the nation, or in the world!" Holger Blinzinger (Germany), in sending greetings from Heidelberg, commented that his experience studying at the U in 1999 was especially positive because of the personal attention he received from faculty. "It's incredible how much time some professors give to individual students," he enthused. Gregor B. Sommer (Germany), also a student at the U in 1999, lauded the "open-minded students and teachers" at the U. Gaute Langaas BS'91 (Norway), a computer engineer, mentioned the "friendly environment found in Salt Lake City." And Isaac Sequeira PhD'70 (India) referred to the "friendly people on campus" while ranking the University of Utah as "first rate."
As for Utah's natural wonders, many respondents alluded to the state's magnificent mountains, pine forests, red rock formations, and spectacular sunsets. Omar Bouhaddou (Morocco), who studied medical informatics at the U in 1989, praised Salt Lake City for its close proximity to seven national parksfive in Utah, and two in adjoining states. "I enjoy immersing myself in nature, away from the stress of life," he said. "Everywhere else you go you find noisy cities [and] unhealthy lifestyles. Here, it is different, and this is good for you and your family."
Third, but certainly not least, is the variety of recreational opportunities found in our pretty great state. The northern Europeans, in particular, spoke glowingly of Utah's superb ski slopes. Others extolled the U's close proximity to the mountains, biking and hiking trails, and ski resorts. The state's national parks and monuments, and the importance of visiting them often, were also oft-mentioned. Frederic Ronconi (France), who was an exchange student at the U last year, described Utah as "the crossroads for visiting the American West."
That's the good news.
The bad news is that some parts of Utah's presentation were seen as lackluster.
Criticisms included the population's tendency toward insularity, its lack of understanding of diverse cultures and traditions, and its general informality, especially in regard to eating (both quantity and quality of food consumed), dressing, and addressing habits. Many outside the United States, for example, spurned the "first-name-basis" practice that prevailsnot only in Utah but also throughout the countrywhich is often interpreted by non-Americans as showing a lack of respect. Sequeira commented, "I was bowled over by the informality in greetings exchanged by teacher and taught." Also critiqued was the local practice of people appearing in public places in casual, often sloppy, attire, which was interpreted as a sign of impertinence.
What are the views of those who have come to Utah to study or to teach and have opted to stay?
Bouhaddou, chief informatics officer at AtmedicaUSA.com, arrived in Utah 17 years ago. He ultimately decided to settle here and currently resides in Salt Lake City with his wife, Pascale, who is French, and their three children. He likes Utah because it is "a family and work-oriented state," he says, and a beautiful one as well. However, he also appreciates that he is able to leave this "safe haven" once in a while "and be part of an eclectic majority again." In homogeneous Utah, he says, his ties are still with minorities, and those outside the dominant culture, "even after 17 years." For that reason Bouhaddou appreciates his University experience for having provided connections to a wider, more diverse community.
Renato Saltz, whose grandparents emigrated from Poland and Palestine, when it was under British control, was born and raised in Brazil. He has resided in the United States for 22 yearsin Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and now Utah. An associate professor in plastic and reconstructive surgery in the Department of Surgery and the Huntsman Cancer Institute, Saltz is married to a physician, Marcia, also Brazilian, who is currently working on her M.B.A. at the U. He says they felt welcome upon arriving in Salt Lake City. "The community embraced me and my family," Saltz comments, adding, "The hospitality here is genuine."
Saltz and his family plan to stay, local concerns and controversies notwithstanding. He feels strongly, for example, that indigenous issues such as polygamy, drinking laws, and political disparity are relatively minor compared to those in many other countries. "In Brazil," he points out, "problems such as poverty, corruption, and violence are very serious. Here," he says, "you don't have to worry about your kids being kidnapped or about massive government corruption." Saltz also feels that Utahns need to be more proactive in opening up to the global community. "We need to teach our children to be less provincial and to broaden their views to what's going on in the outside world," he says.
Indeed, the 2002 Olympic Winter Games will provide the window to that opportunity.
The message, then, seems to be that Utah has much to offerto residents and visitors alikeparticularly when the great outdoors are involved. At the same time, we need to set aside local concerns, at least for the moment, and concentrate on welcoming the world when it comes to call. In the end, we may well broaden our horizons and extend our views beyond the borders.
Linda Marion BFA'67 MFA'71 is managing editor of Continuum.
Our gratitude to Isabel
Sharp, coordinator of the International Resource Network (IRN) in the
International Center, for her assistance with this article. For information
on the IRN, visit www.saff.utah.edu/inter/irn/.