Thursday, November 5, 2009

one month later

[editors note: I was originally typing these up for a site called Wandering Educators, or something like that - but as they have not got back to me, I figure I'll just use them here.]

On a one year trip, M. Barltrop is reporting about his travels on a near-monthly basis. To visit his blog where he updates daily, please direct your browser to

I've been travelling for just over a month now, and you know what I've discovered? There's nothing magical about travel. There's nothing mysterious, or difficult, or treacherous about travel. You just pack a bag, book a place for the night, and get on your transportation. Wherever you go, there you are. It's something that anyone could do; it's something everyone should do.

As of this moment I've been through Scandinavia, some of northern Europe, and into France. Tomorrow I'll be leaving for Spain, but that hasn't happened yet, so I'll try not to get ahead of myself.

Why should you travel? The obvious answer is that you get to experience another culture, see the world through different peoples eyes, and become more tolerant of those around you. But what does that mean exactly?

One of the most important things that has been hammered home is to not judge someone's intelligence by their language skills. If you're dealing with someone who doesn't have a firm grasp of English, this does not mean that they are uneducated. In all possibility they could be a well educated BAh, Bed student. Try going to your local Japanese restaurant and ordering without using English. No matter how well you prepare, odds are you'll find yourself using very simple sentences, and throwing grammar to the wind.

As a teacher from a very multicultural area, who has taught students who have had little more than six months in an English speaking country this is of the utmost importance to remember. I've always – known – this to be true, but to be able to reach back and draw on these experiences will only strengthen my understanding. Heck, I have a hard enough time getting around here in France, and I had nine year exposure to the language in Ontario schools.

Things are also easier to learn when you are where they happened. For example, I spent one day – ten hours – in the fields of Flanders. In that one day I learned more about World War I history than in my entire grade 9 history class. And why? Because when you look at pictures of fields turned to mud, and craters, it means very little. It becomes an idea of an imagined landscape, no more or less real than what the North Pole looks like. You have a concept of it – but nothing real to compare it to.

When you look at that same picture, and then glance out the window of your bus to see farmers fields, and Idyllic meadows suddenly the power, and destruction hits home. That those landscapes could have come from this – and that this, in turn could have come from those landscapes is incredible. And all of a sudden you start to pay attention, to internalize, to really learn.

When you see the live shells that farmers find, to this day, placed at the side of the road for military pick up and defusing, you understand just how much a war nearly one hundred years ago still has long lasting effects on the citizens today.

A similar experience was had while touring Anne Frank's Annex. It's one thing to read her story, and picture the darkness, and terror all around her, brought to life through your internal pathetic fallacy. It's another to look out the window that she would have peered through all those years ago, and realize she was looking out over a beautiful canal running through town, glistening under the sun – each ray broken up into a field of ephemeral diamonds on the water. It is another thing to walk behind the bookshelf that guarded her safety for so long. Haunting is the only work that can describe looking into the attic in which she shared her first kiss – and really knowing that this is the location that it all happened. This is not some recreation, this is not simply a memorial for people to look back upon. These are the walls within which she lived, and breathed, and was eventually pulled out of, taken to concentration camps.

One can sit at home, and view Google Maps. One can read all the books one wants. One can feel as if one understands, knows, learns.

But it is through travel that we truly educate ourselves.

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