We’re hosting an exchange student from France. She’ll be here for 11 days. Last month we had a student from The Netherlands in residence. It is lots of fun to experience daily life through the eyes of someone from another place. Supermarkets that stay open until midnight, multiple chemicals in food ingredient lists, bike trails with speed limits, “cheese in a can” . . . those things we don’t normally notice can be sources of fascination and fun for foreign folks.
I asked our French student what was most different here in the US. She said, “Everything is bigger. The cars are bigger, the roads are bigger, the distances you travel are bigger.” She also observed that everyone seemed friendlier. But I was most happy when she said that church in France was boring, but our service last Sunday was fun. I’m glad she happened to be here for Youth Sunday!
It’s worth letting go of and missing my daughter to give her the opportunity to experience life in another culture. As soon as I could get out on my own, I traveled as often and as far as I could. I want my kids to have the same interest in experiencing the world. That’s why the first thing we did back in 2003 with the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire winnings (well, the second thing after tithing to the church) was to book a family trip to Iceland and England. I hope that experience while my kids were young planted a lifelong desire to see the world beyond their backyard. Since then, my son’s been to Italy and my daughter’s going to the Netherlands, so maybe it did.
Why is travel, especially international travel, so important?
Here’s my favorite writer answering that question in one of my favorite books:
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. – Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad
And here’s what a much lesser writer (me) wrote while on a trip to India in 1993:
I’ve found a bench in a corner to the side of the tomb itself; away from the crowds of tourists and away from the guides who want to show me the “best picture spot” for a few rupees.
I need some time alone to appreciate where I am and how lucky I am to be here.
The sun is hot, but a cool breeze is blowing. The river that runs down below is very shallow but it provides a rest for the sparkling white herons and a host of chattering smaller water birds. Unearthly (at least for my part of the earth) grunts and groans reach over the river from camels put to work in a field beyond. They add to the cacophony of voices from the many laborers in that field.
I am at the Taj Mahal!
But the feeling I have of checking things off some internal list of “Places to See” is hollow, and reminds me that the reward of travelling for me is not what I see, but what I learn about myself, which most often comes from the people I meet.
From a Christian perspective, Jesus made it clear that our neighbors aren’t just those in our communities or our countries. Meeting our neighbors around the world helps us to remember that and to develop empathy beyond our limited experience.
Who knows what equivalent wonders to “cheese in a can” await us in the far corners of the world?