The ‘mindful traveler’ is someone who approaches travel with “a level of sensitivity and curiosity that raises our conscious awareness of how we affect the social and natural environment we enter and act upon” (Slimbach 74). The ‘mass tourist’ fails to achieve this level of understanding during their travels. Instead, they travel to different countries usually trying to achieve personal goals of testing their emotional strength, or ability to adapt to a new culture. Essentially the situation becomes all about themselves and how they can ‘learn’ and benefit form their abroad experience, not considering how they are impacting the place they visit. What Slimbach points out in this chapter is that so many travelers, especially those coming from western nations and traveling to developing nations, fail to critically evaluate how their travel impacts the local culture and economy. Often times travelers seek out remote locations being lured by their traditional lifestyles, which contract greatly to the hustle and bustle of the modern western lifestyle. However, in coming to these locations they don’t consider that them being there may not always bring positive affects to their community, in fact it can damage some of the authenticity in these places.
During my time in Ireland, I haven’t actually given much thought as to how my stay in Ireland, along with the nearly 200 other UCC American students may be impacting Irish culture. While Ireland is a modernized nation like the U.S., I think that Americans still need to reflect on this concept. In waiting for a bus one day back from the store, I began chatting with an older Irish woman. We were discussing some differences in American and Irish technology. She just kept mentioning “you guys are always way ahead of us.” She was even saying how the media outlets in Ireland were only established more recently and they are not nearly as good as the United States’ news access. While I hadn’t really considered these differences, I was surprised at her sense of contempt with the Irish for being somewhat ‘behind’. While she didn’t explicitly mention it, it seems as though she viewed Ireland’s progress and wealth in terms of comparing it to the United States. In other words, if Americans have this piece of technology already and they don’t, then they must be behind the times. Another thing that I think Americans have influenced heavily here in Ireland is their music and entertainment industry. I was shocked to find that almost every restaurant and pub I go to plays mostly American musicians. Further, I have had some chats with several young Irish students who are envious our American movies and how great they are. While this “Americanization” of Ireland may not be directly as a result of tourism, rather the close cultural exchange of people and Ireland’s close proximity to the U.S., it is still interesting to consider how another nation compares and is influenced by U.S. cultural standards.
The notion of understanding our implications on local cultures while traveling abroad connects to our classes’ working definition of the global community. Our definition was, “A global community is comprised of all living things who make up communities that are conjoined by the desire to achieve human rights.” After reading Slimbach’s remarks on a mindful traveler, I think that our working definition is a good start but could use some modification. I think that when forming this definition we did not consider how an essential piece of defining the global community is the relationship between developing, resource-poor nations, and modernized countries such as the United States. While I think most western cultures are at the point where the desire to achieve human rights for all is a main concern, in others places this isn’t always the case. In places like North Korea or Burma where there is an oppressive military presence, these nations are not working towards “ a desire to achieve human rights.” Rather, it is western humanitarians who are concerned with granter greater human rights in these countries. But how do us westerners know that the locals see their living conditions as oppressive, especially in North Korea were there is limited media access? Maybe they are content with their lifestyles. Our initial definition of global community to me seems idealistic and very “western” driven, therefore I think that a better way to rephrase our definition of the global community would this: “ A global community is comprised of all people living on Earth that are connected by complex economical, political and social interactions ”
I definitely believe that ‘mindful traveling’ is a key characteristic to being intentional participants of the global community. A way that I plan to be an intentional traveler is through research and reading. With each place that I visit, I have been looking up online and reading extensively about the sights, customs, and variances in each place. While I do plan to attend to some touristy locations, as everyone does, I hope that when I arrive places I can find some more local, off-beaten places as well. I also have been keeping a separate journal trying to reflect on my experiences at different sites that we have seen in Ireland thus far. I think that this daily reflection is making me “mindful” of the greater purpose of traveling abroad for not only myself but for those who live here and are showing me around. That is why I am concluding with a picture of a random woman who helped us during our scavenger hunt around Cork City the first weekend. I was taken back by how willing she was to show us places and take time out of her day. It made me think
about how I need to be more open to helping others when I go back home and not revert back to the typical American way of ignoring strangers. I also enjoy the candidness of this image, as none of us realized (including her) that she was taking a photo.