When studying abroad most students have the goal to not be looked at as a tourist in their host country for the duration of the semester. It is the difference of being a “mass tourist” to the “mindful traveler”. This does not only refer to while in one’s host country but also while taking weekend trips to other countries or cities. To me, I found that the difference between the two is the amount of energy spent trying to take in and fully understand the culture, while respecting it. As Slimbach explained, “to be a ‘mindful traveler’ is to approach our field settings with a level of sensitivity and curiosity that raises our conscious awareness to how we affect the social and natural environments we enter and act upon” (Slimbach 74). Thus far each weekend I have either traveled to a different country or another city within Spain besides Barcelona… traveling is addicting. However, each time we are traveling my roommates and I look for the small, local restaurants where not only will we be getting a better taste of the local, “not-so-touristy”, areas but we will be supporting them with our business. While traveling in Rome this was especially beneficial to us because the food was absolutely amazing and we became incredibly friendly with the staff. It is just as simple as going to a local restaurant that makes our experiences better than we could’ve imagined. It is the locals who are the culture, and just like the interviews we had done, it is obvious they are our best source to learn anything about our host culture.
I think this relates to our class working definition of “global community” because by interacting and exploring the culture with our sensitive curiosity we are able to almost become one with that culture. The interactions we have allow us a chance to show as citizens throughout the world interacting in one moment, we are a community. We support one another in different ways. I think that our definition should be changed to incorporate the aspect of “support” because within a community that is truly what the citizens do that bring them together as a “whole”.
I think that mindful traveling is definitely a key characteristic of intentional participants of the global community because it shows our curiosity but also awareness of the world. Awareness is key to being a participant in the community because without it we would simply be wandering through a community that we would learn nothing from and simply look ignorant to those who are within the global community. For my travels abroad one simple way I plan to incorporate mindful traveling is by using Airbnb or couch surfing for my stays. These are forms of accommodations within locals’ homes (they’re safe!). Rather than spending money on a hostel or hotel that may have been put up in the place of people’s homes, I will be staying within a locals’ home itself. Through this type of accommodation, I will learn more in depth about the culture and the ways of life. The friendships and conversations that can be created through this could never be found through a hotel while also benefiting the host with a form of payment.
I find that the biggest challenge that exists to inhibit mindful traveling is the expenditure of energy needed. However, we are studying abroad for a reason and that is because we want this experience and to make the best of it, which requires as much energy as it takes. Energy expenditure is nothing when it means you are passing through a journey fully aware of your surroundings that you will never experience again in the way you have it now.
The picture I am attaching shows how willing I am to expend all of my energy for the simple joys of putting myself out there and avoiding the “carefree drifter” tag. This picture was taken during our 15 mile hike up Montserrat on Sunday. Despite the fact I could barely feel my legs, the views were unbelievable, constantly changing with the higher we got up the mountain, and it was worth it. We could have been typical tourists and sat on a tram for less than 10 minutes to get to the top, however, just like all of the locals and Barcelona running team we passed, we found the hike to be a part of the journey to the top. That tram was put into a very small town at the bottom with large paved parking lots that were plain ugly, all for the tourists. All we did was take a train into town and found the beginning our 15 mile hiking trail to the top. It is a simple example of the avoiding the touristy things but it is one of my favorite examples because that hike is one of my favorite memories. Especially for all of the locals and their dogs we passed on the steep trails.