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In pursuit of knowledge

World affairs just one of hundreds of topics discussed at Seabrook

Created date

May 22nd, 2012

Walls lined with books and Asian art. An ornate grand piano. Stacks of unfamiliar magazines and journals. When you first enter Robert Smylie s home, it s easy to feel as if you ve just stepped into the library of a great diplomat. Either that or you ve walked onto the set of the latest Indiana Jones film. But as soon as Robert flashes his warm smile and offers a comforting cup of tea, all traces of intimidation disappear. Robert s home, a Manchester-style two-bedroom, two-bath apartment home at Seabrook, the Erickson Living community in Tinton Falls, N.J., reflects his life s work and his future. Robert s history includes more than 25 years of association with the United Nations (UN) and the Presbyterian UN Office. Now retired, he continues to stay on top of current international affairs by teaching, in addition to picking up new hobbies like learning to play that grand piano in his living room. One of Robert s favorite campus activities the community boasts more than 110 clubs and activities is Great Decisions, a national discussion program on world affairs. I joined it as a place to continue talking about international affairs, he says. Then, last fall, the moderator stepped down and Robert took over. Teaching has been a natural for me.

Self education, self preservation

Robert recently finished teaching a six-week crash course on the UN to 25 of his Seabrook neighbors. He calls it self education: You learn by teaching others. And he appreciates having such an opportunity so close to home. It s an opportunity to teach something that s constantly changing and to keep up my own knowledge of the UN and current affairs, he says. The course covered six basic questions about the UN: What is the UN? What are the UN s four mandates? What are the limitations of the UN? What is the UN s social agenda? What is the future of the UN? And what is the United States role with the organization? People have all sorts of strange notions about the UN, Robert says. My intent was to give an overview of the organization.

Diligent preparation

Robert didn t have to search very hard for course material. His own at-home library houses thousands of books, and he subscribes to five magazines: Foreign Policy,Foreign Affairs,National Geographic,Current History, andTime. Regardless of his preparation, though, he says his audience s questions and responses constantly simulated him. Out of that comes new insight; in that sense it s a challenge, he says.

From teaching to learning

When he s not brushing up on world affairs or teaching others, Robert takes time to turn the tables. Since moving to Seabrook, he s been learning the piano the 19th century grand in his living room. I try to practice about an hour a day, he says. Maybe he is Indiana Jones after all.