What comes to mind when I hear the term “mindful traveler” is a genuine and utmost respect for one’s host country. Therefore, one is mindful of the cultural, religious, socioeconomic and political differences that may differ greatly from those of the home nation. Too often I have vacationed in a country less off than the United States and only recounted what I did, bought, saw or learned there. This implies that everything I did was to benefit myself. About a week after my departure, I never give a thought to my impact on my temporary host culture. Because tourism is the main source of revenue in these countries, leaving a positive impact is especially crucial. According to Slimbach,“…we are all agents of cultural change…Because culture is never static, the question is not whether we will introduce change but in what direction? How might we journey in ways that strengthen rather than undermine the goals of economic growth, cultural preservation, social harmony, environmental protection, and spiritual flourishing?” (82).
Without the help of this course, I am unsure that my transformation from “careless drifter” or “mass tourist” into mindful traveler would be fully complete. One of the sole purposes of Rites of Passage Theory, though there are many, is to leave a positive impact on your host culture through observing, learning and embracing its differences. I also think that living in another country for an extended period of time forces one to integrate into the respective new culture. The act of rapid assimilation allows the traveler to reflect upon the host culture’s values in an attempt to truly understand them. If you do not adopt cultural norms rather quickly, you soon become the outsider.
Our class definition of global community defines said population as “a shared living space of interdependent individuals endowed with universal human rights, while choosing to act upon them, embracing differences and working toward common goals. Participating in the global community is absolutely voluntary. Although each individual is equipped with the same universal human rights, as stated by the definition, it is up to us to utilize these tremendous opportunities. The global community is the common thread that binds while there are many intricacies interwoven among us.
It is entirely possible to travel mindlessly, remaining ignorant to the host culture. In my opinion, this unfortunately happens quite often during short trips where the visitor may not have time to truly delve into the country’s history or culture. In order to actively participate in the global community, however, it is imperative that the traveler creates a mutually beneficial relationship with their host culture. There are many ways in which to become involved such as, studying the language of the host culture or working for an international corporation. While living in France this past month, I have pondered careers where I can employ my French skills. The United Nations, for example, is an organization that has strong ties with Europe and particularly, France. By getting the opportunity to work with this corporation, I would be forging international relationships within the global community. Slimbach highlights an important tendency he calls “autopilot” that many travelers impose: “While autopilot helps us stay “on course” in the rush and pressure of daily life with a minimum of expended energy, there is a major downside. It tends to undermine our capacity to be “mindful”—to consider why, how, and with what effect we do what we do” (74). By inhibiting ourselves from understanding what kinds of changes our presence inflicts on the culture, we are therefore not partaking in the global community. For instance, I attempt to speak with locals when I can. I understand and appreciate the French wanting to preserve their language from being inundated with English vernacular. However, when they immediately detect a slight American accent, they may switch to English. We eventually reach our common goal of, say, a pastry sale. At the same time, I have displayed profound respect for their culture while they courteously use English in an attempt to facilitate the exchange more easily. Sometimes, this can be extremely frustrating because I am trying to improve my language skills. It almost discourages me from trying to adapt to their culture because I know that while they may appreciate my attempts, there is still something obstructing my entrance into their intimate, yet global, community.
I have chosen to include a picture of L’Arc de Triomphe, which was constructed under the reign of Napoleon I to commemorate his victories. Before crossing under the arch’s threshold, I was a representative of my American life, blind to any other culture. Passing through the other side is symbolic of my transformation into an active participant in the global community. Completing this process, through mindful travel, is a personal victory of sorts. Although incomparable to Napoleon’s many war triumphs, entrance into the global community is a large hurdle that I hope to overcome during my semester abroad.