Saturday, August 10, 2019

Why the World Needs Good Travelers

Meeting One Face at a Time - Common Thoughts and Uncommon Results

Westerner man posing with Muslim family in city park
Jakarta, Indonesia

I don't know these people. I met them, but I don't know them. However, we made a connection, and that is good.

Foreign travel is always an act of diplomacy - for better or worse. What we do out in the world is a reflection of our own people and a window for others around the world to have a glimpse of a relatively rare piece of the puzzle that is Planet Earth. For the rest of their lives, they may not remember your name, but something of your encounter stays with them. Traveling to distant lands affords one the opportunity to make a cultural connection. Though often simple enough, this can be one of the most meaningful contributions an explorer can make to his host country. Politics aside, Obama going to Cuba, Trump stepping across the DMZ into North Korea - these were major events which impacts could not have been felt by use of a phone call or an email. You too as a traveler can give just by being there and taking the time to have a conversation.

Now, you may not even think you are all that interesting or that you don't have much to say. Perhaps you are traveling with friends or family, and it would feel awkward to step outside of your group. What pleasure and opportunity you may be missing by not stepping out and over into unfamiliar territory! In my several trips to the Philippines, I have talked to many people - and I have never thought of myself as a big talker - about travel, my country, religion, politics, relationships, food... so many topics. Some of what we talk about could be considered rather banal for a conversation at home. However, I am always struck at how Filipinos are so engaged and interested (I hope). One observation I get fairly often is, "but you don't look American!" What? The point is that even though you may not think you have much to say, plain conversation can lead to rather profound revelations that neither of you would have predicted to offer or receive.

The world has always had conflict, and resolutions to our biggest problems are never elementary. On the other hand, our resources for reaching beyond borders have become so prevalent that meeting the ostensibly "different" members of this world has never been so possible. With a planet that many perceive to be increasingly volatile, perhaps travelers will be the ones who can make the appropriate connections and put faces to our various places on the map.

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