Travel Log 6 – “The Mindful Traveler”

As I begin my second month studying abroad in Japan, I found a lot of what Slimbach has to say in Chapter 3’s Mindful Traveler to be influential, useful and reflective. I feel like he really nails the descriptions and certain actions of those who travel to a country, to be experiencing some culture shock, and resulting in that, a sense of being carefree to all other problems, issues and experiences concerning the journey.

Early in the chapter, Slimbach uses a research group that visits Chiang Mai, Thailand to show an initial mindset of foreign tourists. “Caught in a staged tourist space, the encounters between these parties are almost invariably marked by disparities of power and levels of stereotyping that would not exist among peers.” (Slimbach, 73). While for me personally, I haven’t stereotyped the people of Japan, throughout the introduction to this chapter I feel like the author describes quite nicely the state of mind one finds themselves in during the first few days or even weeks of living in a foreign country. The “carefree drifter,” if you will, spends the initial time soaking everything in, but taking aspects of culture, economics and social norms at face value.

For me personally, I remember first arriving in Japan and spending the initial week adjusting to what I thought were sometimes strange ideas, interesting modes of travel, food, etc., and an overall sense of “huh, this is all very strange.” Settling in to Tokyo, going to class, speaking with individuals who’ve lived here and beginning to understand the implications of my travels have really started to become more and more important. I do feel like there is this sort of threshold to get past and understand that a foreign country, while in itself is definitely foreign, is just another place in the world like yours or mine, with it’s own set of ethics. What I took away from this week’s reading the most was that it’s important to look at the place you live or travel to critically and educationally, which in turn creates a mindful traveler.

Something in the reading that actually bugged me though, had to do with the idea that travelers like the ones pictured in the comic on page 77 exist. In my travels, not just in Japan but in other parts of the world such as South America, I’ve seen the tourists pictured, who place their wants, needs and problems above others who may have less than them. It’s inherently sad (I don’t know about you, but for me it is) to see a wealthy tourist leave their home culture only to proclaim themselves almost as “kings of the world,” and putting themselves before others. Slimbach even titles the next section of the chapter “All About Me?” And in almost every case, it’s not “all about you.” This is one reason why I think Slimbach’s mention of global learning in the global community is so important. Becoming a critical thinker in a foreign country gives people the great gift of perception.

I think our definition for a global community is still one that is present in both my mind and my travels. It’s 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 everything I said before and a lot of what Slimbach has said in Chapter 3 is absolutely true. I don’t think it needs to be changed at all. To conclude, I think some challenges that may inhibit mindful traveling are very similar to those we discussed in this past Fall’s seminar. Things like excessive partying for example, can certainly hinder one’s thoughtful approach to foreign economics, culture, social issues and understanding.

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