What Travel Has Taught Me

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Schoolgirls in Medellin, Colombia (2012)

Mark Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Travel has given me a broader and more compassionate view of human beings than I would have if I had never worked with people beyond the borders of the United States. In the past 30 years, I have had the good fortune to work on education projects in Botswana, Australia, Sweden, Canada, and since 2005, in Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, and Honduras. I have also traveled to project meetings in about ten other countries.

I would like to share with you seven lessons that travel has taught me:

  1. I learned that there is a difference between travel as a tourist and living and working in a country, whether it is for three months or just one week.
  2. I don’t presume that I know about all the people in a given country. My work has been with a small sample of the population – teachers, professors, and deans who are engaged in projects to improve education in their schools and universities. Still, I learned a lot from these groups about the economic, social, and political issues that affect the lives of everyone in each country.
  1. I learned to see my own country from the perspective of Africans, Europeans, and Latin Americans. Sometimes that view is more honorable, sometimes less honorable, than my own view of my fellow countrymen.
  1. I learned that even though a country might need foreign aid from Europe or the United States, the people don’t want to be in the position of needing help. They look forward to the day when they won’t need outside help. For example, when I was working in Botswana in the 1980s, the U. S. Agency for International Development (USAID) played a major role in agriculture, health, and education. Today, Botswana is no longer eligible for USAID resources because the country can sustain its own progress. And that’s a good thing.
  1. I learned that I received much more than I could possibly give – professionally and personally. While this is true whenever I teach, I felt it more concretely while traveling and teaching abroad.
  1. I learned that what I might have to teach was not so important as confirming for university faculty what they already knew, and what actions they were already taking to improve teacher education or engineering education.
  1. I learned that we are more like people in other countries than different from them. I have formed lasting friendships with my international colleagues around the world, particularly in Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Sweden, Canada, and Australia.
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Weavers in Guatemala (2011)

I am learning now that it is getting more difficult for me to keep up the pace of my travel of the last ten years. I have started a new chapter of my life, leaving teacher education and engineering education for adult faith development in my local church. Travel now is more focused on family visits in the U. S. That’s a whole other list of “lessons learned”! Now that I am “vegetating in [my] little corner of the earth,” as Twain says, I pray to continue broadening a compassionate view of human beings, even of those who live in my own country.

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