"Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime." – Mark Twain
It’s all there in books, newspapers, television and film. You may think that a large library combined with a curious mind and a subscription to a newsfeed in different forms is a great way to understand the planet and its inhabitants. Then you go to museums, especially living in a large metropolis like New York city, meet classy European tourists and strike up a conversation. You converse with cab drivers, traditionally clad Muslims, Russians in Brighton Beach, Chinese waiters and Mexican busboys. You got it made, or so you think. These intense interactions, the love of world history, past and current, often make many of us feel satisfied with our understanding of the world. We believe that we can deduce culture and heritage from visiting a neighborhood here in the Big Apple.
But the truth is that even my professor, brilliant as he is, though he read thousands of books and is up on anything the media shares with us, even he is far from truly having a complete perspective of any of those cultures. His true understanding, deep and profound when pertaining to experimental non-cognitive psychology, is merely idealized or distorted off-center when it pertains to judging/evaluating distant cultures.
Here are some of my thoughts on the intense benefits of how we can truly learn through travel.
1. You must travel and spend time in a culture completely different than yours to understand it. Immerse yourself in it by not locking oneself up in luxury hotels and travel by cabs. Interact, blend in and be as close to the people and their culture as you can possibly be. You’ll emerge with a mindboggling discovery – your previous assumptions were just that. Now you are truly aware.
2. Make friends with total strangers. This is not an easy task for many of us. Start a conversation with someone you never met before? Whether it stems from shyness or self-protection, this is one of the most gratifying blocks to overcome. If you’re alone or with a companion, the experiences of talking, walking the city or even sharing a meal (even if you’re kosher and the friend isn’t) can completely change your perspective. You eat your food and they eat theirs. This is the time when the ease of companionship is often sweetest. Reflecting on your experiences, asking questions and listening – these are my very favorite activities and the most enriching. Being invited to a home in Morocco or a palace in Venice added unforgettable color to my life.
3. Try to live down and simple. That is how you’ll come across the cross-section of how the majority of the people in most countries live. You’ll surely not run into them at the Ritz. Plus, returning to the comforts of home will feel like you do reside at the Ritz, only with the comfort of home.
4. You never traveled aboard a camel, hiked or flew in a helicopter. Try to speak a new language. Learn a few phrases, use Google Translate and bravely say the words. Surprise yourself with how much you picked up.
5. Use your creativity to overcome glitches in your trip. Hurricane coming and the airports are closed? Ride to your destination. Or hide out in the small country house, no wife, toilet is just a hole in the ground. Coming home you’ll feel stronger, more flexible and fearless.
6. For me, traveling is a great placation for my natural impatience.
Last year, returning from Tel Aviv, I had a layover in Heidelberg that was supposed to last 40 minutes. It lasted 12 hours. At first I was doing jumping jacks to release my frustration. Then I went down beyond security and was confronted by a large German frau in uniform, gave her a big smile, ignored the frowns and looked for my luggage to take out warm clothes. That took two hours. Then I started to accept the inevitable and made friends with a cool couple from India – they watched over my carry on. They were intelligent, lived in New York City and we’re still friends! I began speaking to other passengers. They were from everywhere and I wanted to hear all their stories. They were happy to oblige. Discovery! Before long all the passengers were laughing at the silliest jokes, and we forgot about the time. I got American Airlines to compensate me with 12,500 miles for the trouble, and that was worth even the stomach upset on the remainder of the long flight to New York. Patience is a virtue. Curiosity did not kill the cat…it actually made it a very wise cat indeed!