As Secretary of State, Colin Powell told me that he liked visiting the U.S. Mission to the United Nations because he could see the Pepsi sign. His summer job was a loader and then driver for the company’s trucks. This is when he learned he had to pay his Union dues, and also a lot about how unions served their members. It was, he said, his first lesson in what it means “to serve.”
Colin also liked to meet with Fulbright and other international student groups. And in one such encounter, he learned that a group of Brazilian students travelled by car through Illinois and Indiana. They stopped to eat at a roadside restaurant and, when the bill came, they realized that they had miscalculated what currency they had and couldn’t pay the bill in full.
He was impressed that they asked the manager what they could do. And even more impressed that the manager sat down with them, gave them all more coffee and asked about their home country. The manager also came from another country and remembered what it was like being a foreigner visiting the U.S. The manager and the students stayed in touch long after the balance due on the bill was forgiven.
Powell said there were many ways to get to know Americans through exchanges and when people do, “they realize we are people from all over and are always willing to listen and help.” Long before this was in the headlines, he felt these qualities are what makes America great.