Local Man Lives Dream Of Seeing the World
To Cody Thornton the world is a place to be explored. He was born in Provo and has lived in Emery County since age 2 when the family moved to Orangeville. Thornton said, "During a semester of my senior year at Emery High I became an exchange student to Chatel-Guyon, France. It is located in the center of France. I studied French for two years in high school. Dean Nelson was my teacher. I learned a lot about their grammar and sentence structure."
Cody's mom, Debbie Thornton said, "When Cody was 7-years-old, he announced that when he got older he wanted to join the Peace Corps and also learn French. Those were his goals."
"We had an exchange student from Paris, France in our home. We are still friends with them," she said.
Cody said, "Going to France was amazing and life changing for me. It opened my eyes and made me want to travel more. I wrote of my experiences in France describing it as a difficult time, but a time of growth which empowered me and I was ready to take on the world and ready for the next step or challenge.
"I attended Boston University for four years. It is the third largest private school in the United States. I have a degree in finance with a minor in African studies. During one summer break I went to Brussels, Belgium and worked as an intern in a small newspaper and magazine store. I traveled all over Western Europe. They spoke mostly French and Flemish there. They speak a lot of English over there too. I speak three languages fairly well. French, Russian and English. One language not so well which is Zarma an African language. I also speak little bits of Hausa and Kazakh.
"During my junior year I went on an academic exchange program to Niamey, Niger. This was in 1997," said Cody.
Debbie described a picture that Cody had sent home of an African scarecrow, "It was a black scarecrow made out of dark cloth out in the field. I loved that picture."
Cody said, "In Niamey they do not have earthworms their soil is aerated by termites. Niger is the second poorest country in the world. It was really sad. I realized how wealthy we are in America. We are leaps and bounds wealthier than they are. Most people in America don't have a clue. We have the richest poor people in the world. Even our poorest are much better off than the people of Niger.
"Three weeks after my graduation I went to Kazakhstan with the Peace Corps. Kazakhstan is south of Russia in-between China and the Caspian Sea. I think it is the ninth largest country in area. I lived 20 miles north of the Caspian Sea in a town called Atyrau. The Ural River splits the continent of Europe and Asia. I lived in Asia and worked on the border of Europe. I taught college age freshmen, sophomores and juniors there in a business college. I lived in seven different places there. Four of my own apartments. They were having a housing crisis while I was there because of all the oil money.. The host school is supposed to provide housing but they couldn't afford the high prices. In my free time I wrote a lot in my journal. I sent out newsletters. I would write about 1000-1500 words a day.
"I was shocked and depressed my first year there. It was not what I had expected. The student apathy in school was really bad. It was a private institute and the kids weren't worried about being kicked out because their parents had paid for them to be there. My second year there I taught in a technical high school. I taught English and basic management and economics. This second year the high school students were more motivated. I taught them about careers in a future free market economy. Their economy was going through a change. Many of my former students have written to say they have won writing competitions and passed tests. One of my students is now in an exchange program in Ohio and two are in New Mexico.
"I was like the school outlaw at this school and the administration didn't know how to take me. My focus was not on discipline. I would engage the students in discussion. Their old way over there didn't allow students their own thoughts and ideas. They weren't allowed their own opinion. I would give oral tests. Students would ask, 'Can I use my own words?" Most instuctors wanted the students to be able to repeat back everything they had said to the students or write it exactly as they had said it on their tests. The concept of being able to answer questions with their own words was very foreign to them. I was really shocked when they asked me if they could use their own words.
"I was in Kazakhstan for two years and four months. Near the end of my time there I got a real job. I worked with the city and regional government on a project for USAID, the U.S. Agency for International Development. The focus of this project was the removal of investment constraints. The process that entrepreneurs have to go through over there is unbelievable. The paperwork alone to operate a business endeavor is 17 meters-18 yards long. If you laid it end to end. We worked to make the process easier, faster and cheaper.
"I really connected with the people over there. I liked them a lot. I lived with them and became good friends with a lot of them. It's hard to meet people because they were very suspicious at first and that was hard to breech. Some of the students at my high school had drivers that dropped them off for school they were very wealthy. These students were great kids. I envied their school in a lot of ways. These students were smart and ready to take their places in the economy as they get older.
"They have fewer cliques over there and the students are closer with each other. They don't have drug problems but there is a lot of smoking and drinking. It was a safe school. After I left Kazakhstan, I traveled in the Middle East for two weeks. I visited a friend in the United Arab Emirates. I was a little nervous after the September 11 attacks, but it helped me understand and get a view of Islam. Most people view the people of the Middle East as extremists, but there is a different side. Many of them love Americans except for a few power hungry people like Osama Bin Laden.
"The United Arab Emirates borders Saudi Arabia and the Persian/Arabian Gulf. I wanted to see what it was like and if they really hated Americans but that was not the case there nor in Kazakhstan. I felt very safe and the people were very supportive. We went on a desert safari in a land cruiser. We saw some Russians out in the desert and they were calling out to us and making snide comments in Russian. When we were leaving I spoke to them in Russian and they were pretty shocked because then they knew I understood what they had been saying. It was pretty funny. We also went boating in the gulf. It was amazing and beautiful. We also went snorkeling.
"My friend taught at an all girls university and I wanted to talk to them to see what it's like for them over there. They were open with their opinions and incredibly bright. They were well educated, wealthy, forward looking and beautiful. The women drive over there, they can serve in the military and be police officers. They can choose whether to wear traditional clothing or not. Most choose to do so but they don't have to. They enjoy nice things and some of their clothing is decorated with beautiful embroidery. I was very lucky to be able to talk to these girls. They weren't afraid. I think it was because they trusted their teacher.
"One girl did a presentation on Osama Bin Laden while I was there. She said she was neither for nor against Bin Laden but described him as being, 'a man who does what he says he is going to do.'
"I also visited France and Denmark and traveled home in November. Flying home was an experience. I had to explain a lot of things and they were very cautious at the airports. I had been in Central Asia and the Middle East, traveled to France and then on to JFK airport and I had two passports; my regular one and my Peace Corps one. I think the air warden flew with me on the flight from JFK because I had such a suspicious itinerary.
"I spent November relaxing a bit at home reading and writing and traveling with friends. I took some friends of mine from Kazakhstan to the national parks. I had the opportunity with a friend of mine from the Peace Corps who now lives in Iowa to go to the Olympics and watch the Kazakhstani women's hockey team play. They didn't win but they scored a goal.
"We were their biggest fans. We created costumes and made hats to look like their flag and went to the game. We cheered loudly and were crazy. I wrote a sign for them in their own language and held it up. The Kazakhstani officials were waving us over because they wanted to talk to us. We talked to a security guard and he took us over to them. I talked to them in their own language and of course, they were amazed. They gave us T-shirts. We had the whole section yelling, 'Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan.'
Kazakhstan is mostly made up of Kazakhs, (an Asian ethnic group) and a Russian ethnic group. They even gave us an official team scarf. They were very happy and very nice.
"One sign that a guy in the crowd made started with a K then he crossed that out, then he wrote KZA and he crossed that out and finally he wrote Go Blue Team. It was funny. One of the officials at the Peaks arena asked me how we knew them and I told him we were Peace Corps volunteers and I had been in their country the last two years. He gave us a red ball that got us into the medals plaza and the concert to the Barenaked Ladies. I'm not sure where they got that name because they are two ugly Canadian guys. But, it was a great concert. It was a great day. It was amazing and incredibly fun.
"We went skiing the next day and someone skied over my ski and my knee twisted and popped, so I went to the hockey game the next day on crutches. But that wasn't too bad because then we sat in the handicapped section on folding chairs close to the floor. The Kazakhstani hockey team was unsponsored so one of the hospitals in the area had a fund raiser for them.
"Traveling has been a growing experience and a challenge for me. I plan on finishing school and getting a master's in business administration. I see myself down the road in a consulting position on an international scale. I want to help stimulate business and improve the global economy and see the world while doing that," said Thornton.