I'm actually writing this in early May, but I didn't want TravelBlog to extend the length of the trip. I've been thinking a lot about what this trip has been for me, both pedagogically and personally.
As a person who hopes to take more students and others on educational trips, I've been thinking about how to make the experience as meaningful as possible. I feel pretty confident about basic trip preparation and follow-through, both generic and specific. I'm continuing to think about what can be prepared for, and where the preparation might better be open-ended. This is the distinction between "You should pack some sealed snacks because otherwise ants will get into them" and "You'll probably find some parts of the trip uncomfortable or unexpected. How do you usually respond to this, and will that work for this trip?" Or on the follow-through end, "You met people of Haitian derivation who are currently subject to some discriminatory legislation in the Dominican. Let's read recent news articles about this" versus "What will it be like for you to discover that people can be poor and happy? What might you learn about your own values and culture by continuing to ponder this?"
This "poor/happy" theme has arisen during and after all of our recent international trips (India, Cambodia, Dominican Republic). It is usually in the form, "They're so poor but they're so happy." Not "and
they're so happy." Not "They're happy under circumstances that would make me, an American, unhappy." Not "I wonder if I'm confusing cultural fatalism with something else." This is an area where more discussion beforehand would be very useful. It's tempting to tell people what they should believe, but the process has to be developmental, and I think it needs to be a discovery as well.
I continue to think about the shape of my professional travel. My professions are highly language-based, so I tend to teach, provide consultation, be educated, or be verbally trained. This trip made use of my language skills (both in the community and with the participants), but relied more on my physical tenacity and the power of the whole group than on anything either linguistic or individual. It makes me look forward to morning meditation on my next trip, which is to India. It's a different way of engaging, and I find that I enjoy both styles.
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