WKU professor rounds globe on educational tour

David Keeling

In less than a month, a Western Kentucky University professor hopped from Hawaii to Indonesia, making a few stops in the South Pacific and zooming off to Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Tanzania, Greece and Portugal before ending his trip in Boston.

This excursion, from June 6 to June 30, was the 10th trip around the globe for David Keeling, head of Western Kentucky University’s Department of Geography and Geology.

The trip was an educational tour with TCS World Travel, during which Keeling represented WKU and the American Geographical Society, of which he is a member. According to a WKU news release, Keeling’s journey covered about 32,000 miles.

A week after the trip ended, Keeling said he has no interest in slowing down, adding that he plans to circumnavigate the planet again in October.

“It’s really fascinating to show people different parts of the world and explain to them the cultural geography,” he said.

“What’s not to like about flying around the world in a luxury jet?” he added.

Starting in Kono, Hawaii, the plane flew westward against the rotation of the Earth, which often made for much longer days on the trip, Keeling said.

Getting adjusted to new time zones was a frequent struggle, he said.

“It’s challenging,” he said. “Jet lag really gets to you after a while.”

During the expedition, he worked with a lecturer from the Smithsonian Institution to educate about 50 other passengers, he said.

With each major stop, Keeling told the other passengers about a local issue, such as the lasting impact of Dutch and Japanese colonialism in Indonesia, the European Union’s apparent instability and the changing Mediterranean economy following the Syrian refugee crisis in Sicily, the release said.

“As a geographer, one of the things I do is point out why the map matters,” Keeling said.

During the trip, the group typically spent three days in each spot, which left time for sightseeing, he said.

Keeling was particularly interested in the island of Peleliu, off the coast of Palau, where World War II’s Battle of Peleliu was fought in 1944.

“That was really compelling,” he said, adding that most of his fellow passengers were in their 60s or 70s and had fathers who fought in WWII and felt a connection to the place.

The main goal for the Department of Geography and Geology and the AGS during educational travel programs is to raise awareness of “some of the planet’s most pressing problems,” the WKU release said.

Keeling said the trip was a good way to teach Americans about the rest of the world and the problems other countries face.

“It’s a great opportunity for general discussion about these issues,” he said.

— Follow Daily News reporter Jackson French on Twitter @Jackson_French or visit bgdailynews.com

General assignment reporter focusing on features and regional coverage.