10 Things I’ve Learned So Far

Cape Town, South Africa – Funny thing about travel. As you come in contact with new people and have new experiences far from home and your comfort zone, travel changes you. The longer you travel and are away from familiar surroundings, the more you change. Over the course of my first two plus months on the road, I’ve felt myself going through this. I can feel that I have changed, hopefully for the better, and adopted more of a world view after living with and amongst people from all over the world and experiencing life with them in places that are quite different from home.

There are simple examples, like the fact that I don’t really watch TV anymore, but there are also much larger realizations that tend to change one’s worldview and perceptions. Below are ten of these realizations I’ve had up to this point in my travels. What I’ve written below may be viewed as “fightin’ words” to some people, but I’m just calling it like I see it after observing my own culture and society from afar while interacting with others from around the world (including the occasional American).

So, here’s what I’ve learned, so far:

1. Don’t believe the hype – Only a third of Americans currently hold a passport. That means at least two-thirds of Americans have never been outside North America – leaving a vast majority of Americans to learn about different cultures through high school textbooks, Hollywood and the internet. None of which are probably the most trustworthy of sources (how out of date do you think that textbook really is?). For that reason, many people think that Thailand is filled with prostitutes and gangsters, Vietnam hates us because we recently fought a war with them and there’s a Communist government in place, Indonesia is filled with poverty stricken Muslim Jihadists just waiting for their chance to slit the throats of Westerners, and all of Africa is a place to avoid due to crime, disease, and war.

While there is a modicum of truth to all of the examples above (that is how stereotypes are formed), they don’t represent the majority of people living in those countries. Thai people on a whole are actually quite conservative and religious. The Vietnamese government may not have the fondest of feelings towards the US, but the people couldn’t be any nicer or happier to meet Westerners, including Americans – they did win that war after all. Indonesians (at least in Jakarta) are actually quite peaceful people and there’s enough ultra lux spots to make any LA hipster green with envy. And, I never once felt threatened or insecure during my entire two months in Southeast Asia (all Asian cultures and societies are non confrontational by nature) or during my first few weeks in Africa (and no weird diseases to report, yet). How do I know all of this? I chose to travel and find out for myself – and ignore the American hype machine.

2. People are people, governments are governments – Another important distinction to make is that a government and its people do not always hold the same perceptions and grudges. Foreigners can make that distinction between Americans and our government, but Americans can’t do the same about foreigners. Why? Look no further than point number one. The hype machine would have you believe that all people within a country act and feel the same way, which isn’t true. The governments of the US and Vietnam may not be the best of friends, but that doesn’t mean the Vietnamese people weren’t some of the most open, warm hearted, caring people that I’ve met on my travels. They didn’t care where I was from or what I did for a living, they only cared about who I am and getting to know me. That’s something a lot of Americans could learn from.

3. America is a paranoid place – I get that 9/11 happened, but we’re not the only ones. Plus, it doesn’t mean everyone who isn’t white and doesn’t live in Canada, Australia, or Europe is a terrorist. The UK dealt with the IRA for years, Spain has had train bombings, France and Norway recently had their share of problems, but none of those countries have clamped down on civil liberties like the US has in the past 11 years. But, it goes beyond terrorism. We think everyone is out to get us, whether it’s our job, our money, or our significant others. And, if something is different from them or their way of life, Americans automatically believe it’s a threat to their very existence and way of life. I have news for you – the rest of the world doesn’t care what happens in America. Sure, the big stuff makes headlines, but everyone else has these things called daily lives they need to tend to. Outside of the terrorists, who are everywhere, there’s no one out to get you. So, relax and enjoy life for once.

Page 1 of 4 | Next page