Google “Things you learn from traveling” and you’ll get millions of results. The first several pages of these results are those wonderful listicles.
While each of these lists have some overlap, each person’s experience is unique. When you travel, where you travel, who you travel with, and that the purpose of your trip is will all help form your experience.
In less than a month I will be leading my third study abroad program. Each year I change the program slightly because the social movements in South Africa are changing from year-to-year. One of the key learning experiences for study abroad is stepping outside of one’s comfort zone to experience another culture. Once you realize that culture is like water, then the phrase “fish out of water” takes on a whole new meaning and an almost perfect metaphor for the travel experience.
I think the most important thing to keep in mind as you travel is to stay present. You will have many uncomfortable moments as you experience a new culture and the challenge is to stay in the moment, realize what you’re experiencing, and if you are lucky why you are experiencing the discomfort. Although, don’t stress if the why comes to you later because we can only process so much at once.
But if you can take time to reflect on your experiences as you travel then you can incorporate more of those experiences into your “real life”. Often when people travel they talk about going back to their real life; however, this whole experience is part of your real life. Here’s one of my favorite posts for the non-academic traveler of Qs and Ts (Questions and Tips) [click here]. For academic travelers who might be using travel or study abroad to enrich their research, I think this post on ethonography is fantastic [click here]. The experience of travel will keep giving to you even after you’ve returned home. You will have made new connections and had new experiences that will reverberate throughout all aspects of your life. Ask all the questions! Try all the food and dance to all the beats! Remember to take all the pictures!
Weezer released a cover of Toto’s Africa last month, which closely coincided with my departure date and made me newly obsessed with this song. I thought I’d post three different takes of the same song and links to the story behind each one.
First is the original Toto’s Africa:
Here’s the short story behind how this song was written and the inspiration for the song [click here].
Next is Kristen Bell and Dax Shepperd’s video made to the orginial Toto version of Africa:
Even though this is the same song the video, made 30 years after the song was originally recorded, gives new meaning to the song itself. Here’s the story behind their video [click here].
Last, but certainly not least, is Weezer’s cover of Africa:
Follow the link for the sweet story behind this new cover [click here].
That’s the pace leading up to a departure date. So many things to do and many of them cannot be done in advance. As my travel date approaches the list grows and the pace quickens. Until the day of departure, when everything slows, clarifies, and simplifies. Today, the big push is packing.
But I’m not just packing. I’m also re-sorting my closet and culling my clothes for another donation run. Then I’ll sort through the clothes that are left and decide what to store and which ones to take back to South Africa in August.
Once the sorting, culling, and packing, is complete I feel a sense of calm. I know that feeling is coming. However, this time the trip that is coming on Monday will be the eye of the storm because when I come back the big move is happening. I’ll have to finish packing up my apartment and put everything into storage until a future, unknown date when I have an address again.
Its funny because I feel so hectic before I leave, but once I’m headed to the airport everything calms down for me and I’m in my happy space. For a lot of people travel is the hectic piece. In the airport they are scattered and a bit harried. Travel can be confusing and disorienting, but I think that’s some of what I really enjoy about it. I enjoy the fun of discovering new places. My favorites are bookstores, coffee shops, and the perfect vantage point to watch sunsets and sunrises. I don’t buy into the “life is a journey” cliche because the point of a journey is a destination. Is death really the destination of my life? I prefer the cliche that life is music (mostly jazz). We have ideas and pursue those ideas, but so much improve happens along the way. Songs do end. However, the music is the point. The beauty of the piece lies in it being played.
Okay…back to actually packing!
If the devil is in the details, then I have many little devils to attend to in the next fourteen days.
- Put my mail on hold
- Suspend my cell phone while I’m gone
- Add all the notes to my various accounts
- Prep my presentation
- Take both animals to the vet
- Make sure the old man has his meds for while I’m gone
- Schedule bills to be paid
- Finish collecting data for my dissertation
- and the list goes on…
This list is exacerbated by the list that I’ll need to complete before I leave again in August. Last night was the first time that these little devils danced around in my head and didn’t let me sleep. I sincerely hope that this does not continue for the next two weeks.
It is difficult to write enough. One blogger I read said that, “You want to write about your experiences, but you have to give up time which may eliminate some experiences.” So, I’m up before sunrise and writing. I think I’ll also have more time as classes start and my cohort is doing the studying bit of the study abroad process.
Our plane from Dulles to Joburg was filled with some interesting people. First, there were a lot of missionaries in our section. Some young people who were going to different parts of Africa for a year. The group next to me were all 18-20 and there were about 6 of them. One girl got airsick the first 5 min of the flight and didn’t get settled until after we left Senegal. I felt so bad for her but her travel companions were giving her morale support. I was impressed with their gumption to leave home and go abroad at their age. On either side of that group was another group of missionaries, men in their late 40’s and early 50’s, who have traveled to various parts of Africa, China, and South America on mission trips. They seemed very middle-aged with their super cheesy “dad jokes”.
There were quite a few study abroad students on the flight, most were connecting to Cape Town from Joburg. There was one student from Case Western who I kept thinking was in our group. She was very nice and took several of our group photos. When I commented to our group that there seemed like a lot of study abroad students on our flight, another passenger interjected that we should “have a party plane.” I think he was asleep before the wheels left the ground…not sure I want to go to any of his parties.
I met a lady who was from Cape Town but has lived all over the world with her husband. She was heading back home because her mother was dying. She was interesting to talk to. She met her American husband when he was on vacation in Cape Town and some friends brought him over. They fell in love that weekend and six months later they were married. Last year they celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary. When they met he was working at a university but then went back to school for his phd. After graduation he got a job with US Foreign Service where he worked for 21 years. They raised their two girls as they traveled and I was not surprised when she told me that one of them married a Marine. Her husband is still working but now he does inspections of embassies and diplomatic posts. She still travels with him but not as much as she used to. She was very sweet and a pleasure to talk with and learn from. She told me that under apartheid her family was considered colored and thus could not vote until 1994. She also said that the school system was better under the British, which I found to be an interesting statement. I wanted to ask her more questions along those lines but did not think it was polite. I hope she made it to Cape Town in time.
My seat companion was an interesting fella. He was from Virginia but his parents worked for USAID while he was growing up and so, he didn’t actually live in the states until he was 9. I started talking to him when I saw his TED Talks backpack and wanted to know if I was sitting next to someone who was “YouTube famous”. He told me that it was passed onto him from his mom, who was the one that gave the TED Talk. I haven’t looked it up yet but its on public health. After the girl across the isle threw up he asked me how I was with flying. He was an expert and was concerned that I’d be nervous the whole time or get sick. I reassured him that, while I may be a bit figity, the flying bit didn’t bother me. He was going to Cape Town because his girlfriend is in school at UCT and he was relocating to be with her. He was going to take a month vacation before job hunting. I’m guessing he already has some leads because he seemed rather well connected. He told me about helping a friend move in the US and to thank him for his kindness he is getting at-cost wine from their vineyard in South Africa. On second thought, I should have gotten his contact information!