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Published: December 1st 2009
How do you define traveling? Some countries or thoughts that may come to mind include: Sierra Leone, scuba diving off of Belize, or perhaps a family vacation to Europe.
I partly define traveling by a change in my state of mind, where I am transported into such a different environment that I learn to see people, ideas, cultures, languages, religious, notions and ways of doing things differently.
This is not surprising, given that when you travel, you may surprise yourself: you may learn that you are much more open than you thought you were; you may also learn that you can really learn to salsa dance like the Hispanic women do. You may learn your limits, your frustrations, or that little things about your foreign roommates really bother you…You may find things that give you joy, such as tranquil lakes set next to erupting volcanoes or even watching the bus scene in downtown Managua.
Since being back, I have been transported back to my regular state of mind as I was before I lived in Central America. For the first month, I was awed by everything that I had; slowly that feeling faded and I started to see how level I was with everyone else I interacted with. No longer was I the rich, white woman who was lucky to make $500 a month (probably the highest paying jobs starting out). I was now just another white, rich woman living with folk with backgrounds similar to mine. Since being back, I have been hungry for being be-dazzled about every little thing and have sought out diversity in my own home region.
It would be wrong to say that my travels haven’t impacted me; they have. Every time I drive in my car, I remember how sick I felt in those overcrowded buses and how I felt lucky when my friends would offer me a ride (oh how I longed to have a car there). Whenever I go out, I think of the girls in Managua who don’t have money to go out and get a taxi, let alone feel safe in a city bus. Whenever I complain how mundane something is, like proficiency computer tests, I remember my students who re-read the same book just to learn the English in its pages and who thrist for knowledge. Whenever I feel like procrastinating or being lazy, I remember all the kids in NPH and in Nicaragua who get up at 4:30am every morning and do chores, homework, etc. Whenever I complain that I am lonely, I remember how I just craved my own time when I was with the kids for some peace and quiet! My privileged Managuan friends had their own homes and I was jealous of them!
I am grateful for these memories, for they have impacted how I live currently. I just wish I could get a daily fix of that life just so that I don’t ever take my life here for granted.
I would just like to share some experiences here in the Twin Cities that I have had that have given me insights and a different state of mind like my travels have. First is interacting with my South St. Paul adult ESL students, all from Central and South America. Some have even invited me into their home. I was introduced into a new part of the city, only 15 minutes from where I live. Just interacting with them was like being transported to somewhere very foreign. I will never forget Roberto’s 20th birthday party: I really felt like I was in Guatemala! I felt very comfortable in their family and felt welcomed. The same day, I went to a jewelry party, also of mostly strangers, but the feeling was completely different: I felt foreign, unsure, uncomfortable, etc. These Hispanic families at Roberto’s home really welcomed me. They teach me how important the person really is, as well as your relationship with them. They also teach me how a college degree and a good set of teeth make you lucky. I got the same connected feeling after hanging out with Natalia, from Argentina. She is just so personable that you really feel a part of her life! It’s just a funny feeling foreign in your own country! It took a while, but I felt very unsocial with other North Americans for a while! However, with anyone who speaks Spanish or who has traveled there, I feel an instant connection.
My Rotaract Club visited a men’s shelter right before Thanksgiving: I was transported into a new world again. Instead of standing around, I knew I was there to learn from these men, so I found one and started talking to him. John is a man who has made a lot of bad decisions in his life but who has also been dealt some bad cards. I instantly found out he has a hunger for the Word and for Jesus. His spiritual gift is prophesy. We bonded over our faith and I was left touched for his desire to know God. Funny thing is that John and I are really neighbors and brothers and sisters in Christ yet we are so different. Just like when you travel to a poor third world country and interact with your global neighbors, you can drive 20 minutes to the inner city and find a similar experience. It was this type of diversity that I have been craving! The more I learn about others who appear different, the more I learn that we are really more alike than unlike. In fact, it wasn’t until I learned about how he views life and God that I understood my faith more.
Every weekend since the summer, I have checked out a new museum through the library museum pass program. I have been to many places, each different. By far, my favorite has been the Hennepin County History Museum, which sits in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ shadow down the street. Learning about the posh, rich neighborhood that once was, I was transported back in time to the 1800’s.
I have also enjoyed going to the Basilica and Cathedral. Both are works of art that are meant to glorify a creator. They remind me of the churches of Europe: grand in their posture and stance. If it weren’t for Europe’s churches stimulating me so much, maybe I wouldn’t have seen these hidden jewels with the same eyes. Funny how something in a foreign country can really inspire and awe you and yet you can find the same types of buildings, groups, etc. from your own country and not even seen that emotive factor in them…
You may travel to get a thrill, since you are literally transported into a whole new world. However, I think you also grow when you can find that same excitement in everyday life. Just think: you have a very ordinary life in your eyes, but to a foreigner, you are fascinating! Look out for those hidden gems in your truly fascinating life.
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Hey Michelle, you make a great auntie very proud, and actually this came at a very good time. I was having a pity party and your article was sent to me like a message from above. Thanks Michell, and I love you. Aunt Sharon