When a student at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., was asked, “What did you fear in traveling to a foreign country most?” he replied, “Money!”
He was a student taking part in St. Vincent’s program for students going abroad to enhance their education.
No doubt, handling foreign money is challenging until one learns to control it. We must wonder if that student’s fear is a reason some people prefer to travel in their own country only.
Travel to another country contains challenges, but as Roman philosopher Seneca stated, “Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.”
A second student interviewed at St. Vincent exuded the vigor of mind of which Seneca speaks. She gushed about living in a different culture, walking its streets, learning its different foods and intermingling with its people. She came to believe, “You can’t learn about a culture until you live in it.”
During her presentation, I recalled taking my dad to Ireland to see his mother’s farm in County Kerry. During that trip, we lived the culture for three weeks: taking the public buses, driving the narrow roads, eating the food and singing Irish tunes.
By nature, Dad was quiet and had never traveled outside the U.S. When he returned from Ireland, he was like that young woman gushing about his experiences.
In education, we distinguish between formal education in the classroom and informal education that is shared by peers outside the classroom. The students we sent abroad confirmed that no matter how much you study a country, the best learning comes from rubbing shoulders with its inhabitants informally.
Living in a country is more than touring it; it is remaining in a particular city or town for a length of time and drinking in its daily routines. It is stumbling in another language, getting lost and sometimes making a fool out of yourself.
Ah, but when these challenges are met, the reward of connecting with another style of life and understanding its people is worth the effort.
Unfortunately, our country is tightening its restrictions on travel. True, we must be cautious in our new age of terrorism and drug traffic. But truer is the need to maintain a reverential sense of solidarity with all people wherever they live and to see them as a gift not a threat, living together with them and not walled off from us.