Unless you spend an extended period of time abroad, you have probably not given much thought to the idea of becoming a mindful traveler. Before coming on this trip I know that I hadn’t. Spending time in a foreign culture has pushed me out of the tourist mindset and inched me closer to the attitude of a local. If I had to classify myself by one of Slimbach’s criteria, I would categorize myself as a ‘carefree drifter.’ I have attempted and will continue to attempt to move from this phase, but there are several obstacles that stand in the way.
Attending an American school it can be very easy to separate from the local community. There are only a small handful of Swiss students, so it can be hard to meet people in the local culture. There is a language barrier that also makes interacting with locals difficult. This is not to say that I cannot become more involved in the local community. Over the next couple months I want to push myself outside of my comfort zone to get involved. One of the ways I plan to do this is through our school’s odd jobs program. It connects students with locals in the community to help them out with any sort of job they may need. Students have helped with anything from tutoring to dog walking. This could be a fantastic way for me to get more interaction with individuals in the community and help move further from the ‘carefree drifter’ stage.
As I look back on the definition that our class put together for a global community, I think certain aspects were overlooked. We said, “A global community is comprised of all living things who make up smaller communities that are conjoined by the desire to achieve human rights.” With this definition we attempted to be so all encompassing that I think we left out some important ideas. The aspect of community is what defines this. Whether it is a local or global community there is still one thing that remains. There is a desire for relationships and connectedness with your surroundings. As Slimbach discusses this could be in a variety of ways, possibly social, spiritual, or ecological.
The connectedness to the surroundings is one aspect that I feel separates a ‘carefree drifter’ from a ‘mindful traveler.’ The carefree drifter can live in the area and follow the customs, blending in with their surroundings. However, the mindful traveler becomes part of the community. The relationships elevate them from simply being in the surroundings to being part of the surroundings. This is not a simple task and it takes a large amount of time and energy to truly be in the state of a mindful traveler, however, that state abounds the most rewarding experiences.
The picture I chose to sum up my mindful traveling expresses the difference between touring and traveling. When you tell people that you are studying abroad it is not uncommon to hear responses like “have fun on vacation.” This response elicits the confusion between touring and traveling. As Slimbach states, “Travel is school for life, one that generates fresh insights and unforgettable memories” (p. 75). My goal over the next several weeks is to push further away from the idea of existing among the community and strive to become part of it. By making this jump I will be able to develop a deeper understanding of what it means to be a part of a global community.