Growing up I often heard adults around me utter the cliché phrase “curiosity killed the cat,” however, I never really understood its meaning. Years later, I now know that it’s a proverb suggesting curiosity can lead an individual to certain kinds of trouble. But even then, years later, as I find myself studying in a foreign country for four months this proverb seems extremely relevant. I believe that curiosity and inquisitiveness are the two key ingredients I need for my experience in order to make a delicious recipe. So again that might sound cliché, just as the original phrase is, but it presents the idea of a mindful traveler. A mindful traveler is described by Slimbach with the working definition that “To be a ‘mindful traveler’ is to approach our field settings with a level of sensitivity and curiosity that raises our conscious awareness of how we affect the social and natural environments we enter and act upon” (74). A mindful traveler however differs from the carefree drifter or the mass tourist. While a mindful traveler is described as one who thrives with the idea of curiosity and allowing it to “kill the cat” and experience the whole truth of their impact on their environment, carefree drifters aren’t as attentive to their subconscious awareness of curiosity. Similar to a mass tourist, they visit the sites, but they don’t really retain their visits. To me, this is what a mass tourist or a carefree drifter is—someone who just experiences just the surface level.
I’d be lying if I admitted to being consciously attentive to my own individual curiosities since the day I arrived. Believe it or not, it’s hard to be a mindful traveler 24/7. Living in a town that is very touristy, almost all the natives and workers speak some degree of English. This fact allows me to communicate much easier with those in my community, however it’s almost unfair that I’ve entered their place of residence and expected them to adapt to me. Most of the time I don’t even notice the adaptation, since I am so accustomed to it (stereotyping myself a spoiled American). Despite this, I find it more rewarding when I ask questions about words, try to learn and even if my accent isn’t anywhere close to good at the very least I’ve met a new person that indirectly is helping me on my journey. I feel that by subjecting myself to being a mindful traveler it positively affects the global community. Since people and their environments all affect once another, it’s almost impossible to not affect the global community with mindful traveling. However, like I just admitted myself, not everyone is a mindful traveler at all times. In Becoming World Wise, Slimbach writes “As hinted at earlier, the experience itself is seen as a form of liberation from the shallow and sometimes smothering ‘overdevelopment’ of modern life” (77). It’s hard to speak for a general population, but in my experience I’ve met people on a similar journey as me that have followed this mentality, negatively and positively.
Traveling as a means to “liberate” ourselves from whatever experiences we have at home is only successful if we truly liberate ourselves. But to liberate yourself, you need to be an active member, participate and most importantly indulge your curiosities. Your experiences are only as good as the lens you visualize them through. Part of the beauty in studying elsewhere is the not only a different educational experience but a different cultural experience. To me, it doesn’t make sense to not make the trek half way across the globe to stick to the same routines. I understand in certain situations there’s a difference between being safe and between being sorry. But I also understand there are ways to immerse, observe and collect information regarding the environment and people around you. A few days ago, I got off the bus (how I get to and from school) and decided to take the long way home—long way meaning actually walking the opposite direction so I had to retrace steps. My point is, I still got home safely, but on my journey home I was able to just watch everyone around me go about their daily routine as well. Following the sea wall I was able to see the school kids playing during their recess, couples strolling (strolling might even be too fast for their pace) by the water and men and women either entering lunch breaks or returning to work. On my walk home, I began to think just as I was observing everyone in their daily routines, was anyone observing me? I correlate that thought directly to the definition of global community. We are all so different but there are so many intertwining factors that allow us to compile ourselves into one category. Of course among this category belongs subcategories that are devised based upon our individual curiosities. The global community is constantly thriving off one another, as long as we allow for it.
Most times, I’m a very even tempered, low-key kind of girl that doesn’t get overly excited or upset about a lot. However, since seeing more of this beautiful world I can’t contain how grateful I am to be in this experience and given this opportunity. I’ve chosen these pictures since they evoke so many feelings and thoughts out of me. There are so many possibilities for everyone, everyday, every second. So if we stop and look around, if we just go into that coffee shop on Sunday morning and completely butcher our order in French, at least we did it—and who knows where that moment might take us and who we might encounter because of it. The omnipresent nature of our global community makes our actions affect all those around us, whether we are conscious to it or not.