In chapter three of his book, Slimbach offers some interesting insight into the difference between being a ‘mindful traveler’ versus a ‘carefree drifter.’ A ‘mindful traveler’ is one who understands that the study abroad experience is not only about self, but also about community. The mindful traveler recognizes differences between the host country and his or her own country, and learns from and appreciates these differences, instead of simply dismissing the host country’s ways as “wrong.” Also, the mindful travel must realize that his or her actions have consequences beyond those that directly affect him or her. Slimbach says, “…they consider how to act responsibly in an integrated world of far greater complexity, where the apparently simple act of traveling, serving, buying, and selling have repercussions that are far beyond the limits of their immediate experience and that they are morally obliged to take them into account” (72). The ‘carefree drifter’ on the other hand is the traveler who is not aware. He is not aware of the effects he has on the host community and is not aware of the opportunity to learn globally while abroad. The drifter simply follows along for the few months he or she is abroad, traveling to popular cities, hanging out with friends from his or her home country, and doing what feels comfortable. The carefree drifter does not know how or care to know how to make meaning from the experience by asking questions, making intercultural relationships, and benefit himself while benefiting others.
At the workshops in the spring, our class tried to come up with a definition for global community. 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.” While I think that this definition definitely hits some fundamental points, I think that it fails in truly describing what connects communities across the world and truly makes them global. While many people ultimately want to achieve human rights, this is not what connects smaller communities. What connects these smaller communities is the desire to know more about different places and people, the ability to travel and interact with others, and the capacity to understand and appreciate differences. In other words, to even begin discussing a global community, there needs to be willing participants for a global community to start with.
The idea of being willing to participate in a global community comes back to being a mindful traveler. Those who want to successfully integrate into this community need to think less about how the world affects them individually, and more about how they can individually affect the world. Slimbach says, “It’s hard to call people to radical responses to a world that has served only as a backdrop for ephemeral episodes consumed purely for personal enrichment” (80). This means that students who study abroad purely for their own enjoyment and to just have a good time cannot possibly meaningfully enrich their global knowledge while studying. In order to make sure that I am a mindful traveler, I will follow Slimbach’s advice and consider my actions in the economic, cultural, social, and ecological spheres. To achieve economic mindfulness, I can shop at the local markets and support native vendors, instead of buying groceries at the large chains. To enhance my cultural sphere, I can do my best to blend in with the locals by trying to speak the language and learning to appreciate cultural differences. I have already started my social learning, in that I have signed up for a meal plan at Florence’s university and I am meeting up with Italian students for lunch next week. Lastly, Florence is a very ecologically aware city and the people are conscious of how they dispose of trash and they have strict rules for how to separate materials. In order to be ecologically mindful, I can learn how to separate my garbage and participate in this eco-friendly practice.
This picture is of a carousel in Piazza della Republicca in Florence. A carefree drifter would spend much of his time riding around and around the carousel of study abroad. He would never leave the safe and comfortable ride. However, I want to be the mindful traveler who breaks out of a monotonous routine and ventures out to try new things and learn about a different culture!