During my time traveling abroad so far, I have come across many students that do the exact opposite of travel mindfully. There are those who care only about seeing the major sights, posting status updates of their current locations, and uploading photos to Instagram taken with the camera that is strapped around their neck 24/7. This is what I would call the “mass tourist.” Other students are just along for the ride. They follow in the paths of other students, stick to only the basics of the activities planned for them, and honestly don’t seem to be getting anything out of their travel experience. These people are what I would call “carefree drifters.” Slimbach describes mindful travelers as people who have a raised “conscious awareness of how we affect the social and natural environments we enter” and those who “allow higher purposes to guide our attempt to grow in worldly wisdom while enriching the lives of others.” (Slimbach, 74) If I had to classify where I fall in these three categories, I would say I am combination of a mass tourist and a mindful traveler. I feel like I have a bit of a heightened awareness for my surroundings and more cultural appreciations than most other students because I am reading Slimbach’s book, following other students’ travel experiences, discussing my own experiences with my family and friends, and reflecting on them myself through journaling. However, at the same time, I am interested in documenting my experience through photos and videos, and like many others, I tend to focus more on how my time here affects me and my life rather than the locals and theirs. I do however think that study abroad is a bit more of a personal experience than an abroad service trip. Although I have encountered plenty of cultural differences, I am not living in a third world country and I definitely wouldn’t say I am way “above” the people in Spain in terms of money, opportunity, technology, and so on. So although I am, and will continue to try to be, mindful of my host community I feel that it is okay to be a bit more on the “self-centered” side of things my particular situation because I am here to learn and see new things rather than to help others. (But if given the opportunity to do both I would never pass it up!)
Our class working definition of a global community is:
“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.”
I think that mindful travel is summed up by the last part that includes embracing differences and working toward common goals. If I were to change it at all, I would probably add in something about acceptance of differences rather than simply embracing them. Being aware of different beliefs and values is one thing, but accepting them is completely different and probably much more important.
I absolutely think that mindful traveling is a key characteristic of intentional participants of the global community. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that one may not be a true participant of the global community if he or she does not travel mindfully. During my time in Sevilla so far, I have always searched for opportunities to get involved with locals rather than simply drift through my days doing only what other foreigners do. I am signed up to receive emails from my school and from API for “intercambio events” that happen a few times a week. I have already attended several meetings in which study abroad students like myself are able to sit down and speak with Spanish students attending UPO as well or living in Sevilla. The events are very casual. They take place at school or at bars, and some are even organized enough to have specific topics of conversation and games to play that facilitate intellectual discussion and bring up differences in culture. I have met some very cool people and try to learn new things each time I go such as phrases and expressions, cultural norms, and fun places to go and see. Most of the Spanish people I have met are also very interested in hearing about American schools, cities, shopping and more. I find it really funny to hear and attempt to clear up stereotypes and generalized thoughts about America/Americans when they ask questions. One student said, “I thought America was supposed to be a mix of a bunch of different people. Why are all of you white? Where are all the blacks and the Asians?” I couldn’t help but laugh. (Just another example of how direct the people are here!)
Other things I am doing to incorporate mindful travel into my study abroad experience are volunteering at a local school to help teach young children English and babysitting some kids who live near me and helping them with their English homework. I just started a few weeks ago but so far I am really enjoying both of them. It’s a small contribution to my host community, but I am happy I have found something I can do to give back. Believe it or not I am even learning a lot of Spanish from the kids because they speak slowly using simple vocabulary and tend to repeat themselves a lot. Babysitting is especially fun because I get to see what an average family apartment in Sevilla looks like. I have also had several conversations with the kid’s parents, who are both doctors, and learned more about the health care system in Spain. I would say in my situation that the biggest inhibitor of mindful traveling is being constantly surrounded by groups of Americans, making it hard to break away and doing things on my own. I think that volunteering and babysitting have helped me to become a more mindful traveler because they have given me the opportunity to participate in my host community from more of an inside perspective than ever before.
This is a picture of my friend Eugenia and me, who I met at one of the intercambio events organized by API. She was one of the first “Sevillanos” that I met. (That’s what the locals of Sevilla call themselves.) We talked about tons of different cultural differences between the U.S. and Spain the day this photo was taken. Our conversation reminded me of a small version of the movie we watched at the QU301 workshop. Eugenia helped me to open my eyes to this country and prepared me a bit for what I was walking into when I first arrived.