"So in a word, what did you think your son learned from his trip abroad?" asked my cousin. I love questions like this, when you have to distill all kinds of experiences and ideas into a word. "I think that he became a traveler," was my almost automatic response.
Let me explain.
A tourist is one who brings all of what they know into a new experience. Each new experience is compared to what they expected from back home; perspectives and prejudices are confirmed, and if not, the experience is usually held at fault.
A traveler leaves themselves open. They know that they don't know what they don't know and so they enter each new experience unconditionally, with an expectation to learn and with a willingness to step out of their comfort zone.
Mark Twain, rascal that he is, has some great things to say about travel and what a true traveler is:
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.-Innocents Abroad
...nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people.- Letter to San Francisco Alta California, dated May 18th, 1867; published June 23, 1867
Mary Baker Eddy, a much less rascally person, wrote, "Meekness and charity have divine authority." I think that's what my son experienced.
He fit comfortably into the family he stayed with for a year in Germany. He listened. He appreciated things. He let go of pre-conceived ideas. He saw his own country in a new light; he was able to see that there are many ways to do things: zip a zipper, travel in a car, eat chocolate, as well as understand politics, experience new uses of space, success, and time. He felt the presence of history in the castles and architecture. He saw how much in common we all have and the differences enlarged his understanding of all that is possible in the world.
And best of all, it stirred in him a desire to become multi-lingual and to continue to explore more broadly, learn more deeply, and find one's place among humanity. And in my book, that's a traveler.
(Micah now shares his home in South Korea where he teaches English in the Fulbright program.)
Kim C Korinek, CSB
banner photo (c) Micah Korinek; other photos by Gabe Korinek, Kim Korinek, Brad Crooks. Leslie Larsen (c) 2016