How World Travel Erases Bigotry

Somehow last Thursday flew by me without my doing a post on tenth grade for my Recording My Youth series. So better late than never, let me tell you about this very momentous year.

I've heard it said that the best way to dispel racism, bigotry, and hatred is to travel to a different country. To leave the environment you have grown up in and step into a new culture is to have your horizons widened dramatically. Seeing how other people live firsthand brings new perspective on our own lives.

The summer before my sophomore year, my grandparents decided to take our entire family on a trip to the United Kingdom. We flew to London, toured the English countryside, stopped by Stonehenge, and wound our way through Scotland and Wales. I realize that the UK is about as similar a culture to ours as you can get, but it also is dramatically not the same. That summer my view of the world expanded by a thousand-fold.

Even my teachers recognized that I was different when I returned to school for tenth grade. Far less moody, probably a bit more confident.

Tenth grade was the year of my first serious boyfriend...the first big mistake in terms of wasting time I'd ever make. In a small Christian school like mine, everyone knew everyone in our grade very well.  In fact I knew most of the kids a year ahead and a year behind me. So when I got asked out by a junior I didn't know well at all, I went for it. He had a car, which I think was the underlying reason my best friend wanted me to date him...so he could drive her and her boyfriend places. He was an idiot and we broke up before the year was over. Facebook recently suggested I befriend him...since we have like 100 friends in common. Uh, no thanks.

The summer after tenth grade I embarked on another big adventure abroad, this time to Germany as a student. Going so far from home without my family was a big deal, and has definitely contributed to my independence and self-sufficiency in life. A few of us flew to Germany and lived with families for a bit, attending their high school.  Then our German teacher flew over and we went on a long tour of the country, staying in youth hostels all over East and West Germany.  This was shortly after the Berlin wall fell and that photo is of us standing in front of one of the few remaining  pieces of the wall, kept for remembrance. I'm on the far left.

Aside for getting to know a German family and going to school, the most impactful part of the trip was our visit to a Nazi concentration camp. This was before any of the Holocaust museums in the US existed, so even though we knew the stories, we had never been exposed to the horrific photos of bodies piled high and bones and hair. We walked into the gas chamber. It was chilling to the core. I wish every 16 year old in America could experience that. Talk about a way to erase bigotry.

My experiences in tenth grade left me with a strong taste for travel, and for seeing how other cultures live up close and personally.  I have since done quite a bit more traveling abroad, but now there is a hunger in me to see more and more of the world that I know will never go away.

Have you ever experienced living in a totally different culture and did it change you?


Ed T. said...

I lived the life of an ex-pat twice - once in the 5th grade when we spent 18 months in the Netherlands, the other time during high school, when I spent the entire 3 years in Venezuela. It was definitely an eye-opener: the magnificent buildings, the feeling absolutely lost in a place where you didn't know the language, the terror of a Soviet border guard pointing a loaded AK-47 at your mother in a tour bus because he heard a suspicious noise (your younger brother, snoring), seeing the feeling of deja-vu on the faces of your neighbors as the 1967 "6-day war" started, seeing the look of absolute fear on the face of the son of the Israeli Ambassador as he stumbled, ears bleeding, from the restroom where an explosion had just occurred (the result of a childish schoolboy prank with a firecracker gone horribly wrong), the feeling of relief when you wake up to find that the place you just left had a sudden change of government (Greece, 1967.)

Most important was the realization that we are very fortunate indeed to live in a country like the USofA, and that we must do our part to make sure it is around for our children to enjoy.


sarahhubbell said...

Thanks for sharing, Ed. It is interesting how travel helps you not only appreciate other cultures, but your own as well. I learned firsthand from the family of a doctor about how socialized medicine works in Germany...and it wasn't positive.

Christine said...

I lived in Germany from 1990-1992. Definitely life changing. I'm glad I was able to take Jason to visit Germany & Austria in 2007 as well.

Just a thought - that guy from high school? He may have changed a lot from the kid he was back then. I discovered that through one of the people I reconnected with a few years ago. I know I am definitely a different person. Broader horizons & all, right?

(Or maybe there is more to that than you wrote here, and there are some people that time only seems to make them worse...)

Tracy said...

Seeing children homeless and begging on the street ripped my heart out - especially since we were on an adoption trip at the time and I knew my son could have been in the same situation.
It made me remember that no matter how financially strapped we are, we can always do something to help.

Elz said...

I lived in Europe for years, so that pretty much dispelled any pre-conceived notions!

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