This past Tuesday, Feb. 25, Fairfield University hosted an Open Visions Forum moderated by art history professor Philip Eliasoph, Ph. D., and biology professor Ashley Byun, Ph. D., featuring Richard Wiese, a world explorer and host of the award winning television show, “Born to Explore.”
Aptly entitled “Kick the Bucket List: An Explorer’s Notebook,” the forum began with Eliasoph detailing Wiese’s life and career in an almost eulogy-style fashion. “I’m going to have you speak at my funeral,” Wiese quipped as he began to discuss his early life and the experiences that would ultimately fuel his insatiable curiosity for traveling and learning about different cultures.
Born on Long Island, Wiese’s father was a pilot and the first person to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean. At just 11-years-old, Wiese climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and has since done so over a dozen times. In 2002, he became the youngest-ever president of the Explorers Club, which is a society whose members were the first to travel to the North and South Pole, Mount Everest, the deepest point in the ocean and the moon.
Often likened to Indiana Jones, Wiese’s travels have taken him to all seven continents, from Tanzania to Indonesia, from tagging jaguars to cross country skiing to the North Pole, but he was humble in regards to it all. One of the central messages of the talk was that, as Wiese put it, “the most important part of a journey is not the destination, but the people you meet along the way.” Indeed, throughout his life Wiese has gotten the opportunity to meet many influential people, including Sir Edmund Hillary, Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Jane Goodall, among others.
One of the most common questions that people ask him, and one that many in the audience were surely eager to know was, “How many countries has he been to?” Instead of answering the question directly, he told the story of someone who walked up to him and proclaimed that he had visited 195 countries in the span of a year, (out of 196 total). “And all I could think,” Wiese told the audience, “was, ‘how pathetic.’ When you visit that many countries in such a short time period, you can’t possibly find time to fully appreciate or learn about each country, which ignores the whole point of traveling in the first place.” In other words, he said that seeing the world is about quality, not quantity.
Wiese could not emphasize enough the importance of learning as much as you can about other cultures. “Sharing cultural experiences is very important, because when you do that, you learn that people often have the same goals,” Wiese explained. He cautioned again against traveling just for the sake of getting stamps on a passport, which he said is “part of that ‘bucket list’ mentality.”
“Life isn’t a ‘bucket list’ but rather ‘a series of short stories,’” Wiese said. He spends most of his time in Connecticut with his family, currently residing in Weston. However, far from implying his life is boring now, Wiese insisted that sometimes the greatest adventures can be had in one’s own backyard: “You can create an adventure just about anywhere.”