“Travel, at heart, is just a quick way to keeping our minds mobile and awake. As Santayana…wrote, ‘There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar; it keeps the mind nimble; it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor.'”
Greetings, everyone! So much of Pico Iyer’s piece resonated with me that my highlighting and underlining looked like what I caution my students against doing. I can hear them imitating me with “Too much underlining is just as ineffective as not enough. Be selective. Be intentional!” Alas, here I am, a middle school English and social studies teacher excited beyond words to enter into this journey with all of you.
I keep coming back to the notion of travel as a journey as much for the mind as for the body or soul. I love that Santayana correlates the act of putting oneself in unfamiliar territory with wisdom. Jamie, your insight about shaking off the sediment of conditioning or complacency in our daily lives speaks to this too. To meaningfully awaken my mind, I’ve found no better substitute than travel to unfamiliar places. I suppose it’s only natural to cycle through periods of sleepy routine at home, but consciously choosing to interrupt those periods with travel creates a palpable sense of being untethered in the most uncomfortable and transformative ways.
Though this might seem odd, the idea of fostering humor is what draws me to that quote more than the other elements of it. When I think about my global education experiences – living and working in rural Tanzania on a one-year fellowship; traversing canyons and mountains for months at a time with the National Outdoor Leadership School; staying with a Mayan-speaking host family in the forest of Belize – I cannot separate the profundity of those journeys from the laughter I remember so vividly sharing with course mates, local friends, and even those with whom I shared no common language. Humor, especially when faced with adversity, discomfort, or uncertainty, is as essential to an experience as risk management protocols or curricular outcomes. Nothing breaks barriers or moves the dial toward understanding more efficiently than humor. I’ve been guilty of taking myself or my work too seriously. I’ve conflated effort and worry with doing a good job. Yet I’m learning over time that an experience that brings joy, awe, and simplicity is not a lesser experience. On the contrary, it creates more space to get out of our own way and invite the gifts of the moment.
I can close my eyes and feel my stomach ache from laughter I’ve shared, often at those critical moments of discomfort, fear, or challenge. Crouching, absolutely drenched, for what feels like hours in a tight huddle to escape a violent storm; sharing my seat on a long, treacherous, and hot bus ride with a goat and a cage of chickens; getting lost as darkness falls and noticing pangs of hunger, thirst, and frustration welling up; or getting caught up in my own mosquito net in the middle of the night as I wake up needing to rush to the toilet (I suspect we’ve all been there). In all of these instances, something clicks, and there’s that moment of “ok, this predicament or challenge is fascinating…and also somewhat amusing.” The humor usually seeps in when my mind wakes up and I can step outside of the experience for a moment to see it for what it is. It’s similar to the notion of “Type 2 fun” (somewhat miserable during the experience, but enjoyable in retrospect). I love the way travel can liberate us from the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and the world we inhabit. A hefty dose of humor eases that process of awakening considerably.
In the vein of climate change education, I am acutely aware of just how many stories there are about its causes, effects, and complications. Some stories are less grounded in reality (frustratingly and unfortunately) than others. I agree with previous posts about unknowing and humbly approaching the topic with curiosity and questions. I look forward to navigating this course’s themes with all of you.