Henry's Map: San Francisco 9-Year-Old's Experiment Yields Lessons In Geography, Life

When the fog has lifted and the sun is shining, the view from the Marin County side of the Golden Gate Bridge is the kind of beauty that makes tourists want to leave their hearts in San Francisco.

While that song reference may be lost on most 9-year-olds, there is something Henry Dietrich would actually like those tourists to leave behind: their marks on his map.

For three weekends this summer and fall the San Francisco 4th-grader brought a map of the world and bunch of pins with him to the overlook. Henry asked tourist after tourist two simple questions: "Where are you from?" and "Would you like to put a pin in my map?"

Hardly anyone turned him down.

By the end of his project, Henry had collected hundreds of pins scattered across dozens of countries around the world.

The idea came to Henry after a trip his family took this summer to New York and South Dakota. Along the way, a lot of people asked Henry where he was from and that got him thinking about travel, tourism, and his hometown.

One night at bedtime after their return home, Henry brought the subject up with his father, Mark.

"We were sitting, looking at this wall which has a giant world map on it and that's when the idea went off," Dietrich said.

Henry told his dad, "I want to know where people are from that come here."

So, the pair put a world map on a poster board, bought hundreds of pins, and set out for the bridge.

Henry said it wasn't easy at first talking to complete strangers. "Nope, it took some practice." But once he became more comfortable, and the pins became more plentiful, Henry started learning a few things.

First, he learned that people really like putting pins in maps.

Crowds of people regularly gathered around his map, marveling at the spots all over the world in which people had stuck pins.

The next lesson, of course, was one in world geography. Henry got a crash course in where places like Belarus, Uruguay, and Thailand are.

The last lesson, though, might just be the most important one of all. Henry noticed that no matter where someone came from, or what they looked like, everybody had one thing in common: "They were friendly, yeah." '

While that may seem like a small thing to some, it doesn't to Mark Dietrich. He believes his son has stumbled across a secret it sometimes takes others a lifetime to learn.

"I think he just learned, 'Hey, it doesn't matter what these people, tall, short, men, women, young, old, tattoos, piercings from all over are. They were all just friendly,'" Dietrich said. "I think that just is going to build inside of him and understanding, 'Hey it doesn't matter where you're from, you're people, too.'"

A lesson, learned from Henry's map, that should stick with all of us.

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