I remember back in May when we had our one-on-one talks after the weekend workshop. Mark had asked me, “Why do you want to go abroad? What do you want to get out of this?” My answer was simple and honest. I replied, “I want to discover who I really am. I want a break from all the schoolwork and stress to figure myself out.” So, I hopped on a plane to Australia and thought that was why I was coming here. Of course I wanted to see all the beautiful beaches and waterfalls, too. I knew I needed to take a step back from all life’s stresses, and Australia, I believed, was just the place to do that. This trip was about me. Originally, I was not what Slimbach describes as a “mindful traveler”.
A mindful traveler is one who is not exclusively loyal to his or her own native home. A mindful traveler does not believe that their country is the only country to do everything correctly from politics, to economics, to culture, to social life. Cultural mindfulness is important when traveling abroad. This means that we consider how, “the languages we speak, the clothes we wear, the new ideas we share, and the consumer habits we display” affect the society we are living in. (Slimbach, 84) If more study abroad students can open their mind up to this idea, then their experience while in their host country will become a lot more valuable. Personally, I have become so much more aware of my own impact and role in Australian society. From getting Café Espresso over Starbucks, walking home instead of taking an uber, turning the electricity switch to “off” when not in use, and how the clothing I wear each day all affects Australia.
On the contrary, none of these topics would ever cross the mind of a “mass tourist”. Slimbach describes a mass tourist as, “Most of us are creatures of habit. Our tendency is to do thinks – including travel-related things – on automatic pilot, largely oblivious to the movements themselves and how they impact the world around us.” (74) Americans run off of autopilot every day. We are constantly in a rush and need things to be completed in an efficient amount of time without any thought. We don’t talk to baristas while waiting for our coffees. We don’t think twice about leaving all our electronics plugged in to save energy. The thought of walking somewhere when we could easily hop in our car to get there is just non-existent. A mass tourist is unknowingly exactly what I had been for the first couple of weeks. I just wanted to travel to beaches, play with kangaroos, snorkel in the clear blue water, and get drunk at night with my friends. Mass tourists go abroad to come back and feel good about themselves. These are the people who go somewhere to just stare at the gorgeous views and eat delicious food. They have bucket lists of places they hope to visit and things they wish to do. Sometimes, they may even go to a third world country to help the poor. This, of course, is an amazing thing to do. But most of the time, if you ask them what they got out of the trip, they’ll usually respond with how great helping people in need feels or that they realized how fortunate they are to live in such a developed country. Never will you hear a mass tourist say something about how nice the people from that country are or what they like to do in their free time. But, there is so much more to being a tourist than just the views and self-development.
I believe Slimbach’s definition of a “mindful traveler” explains what a global community is. A global community is where people from all over the world learn from each other socially, economically and culturally. In doing so, this can form stronger cross-culture relationships. Mindful traveling is a key characteristic to have when partaking within our global community. Study abroad students can transform and develop better relationships within their host culture if they actually stop and think about how their actions are affecting the environment and people around them. By talking over lunch or doing an activity together, you can learn a lot about a person. Slimbach says “mindful global learning aspires to narrow the gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’, strengthening the bond of understanding and legitimate respect between strangers.” (87) This can allow for a bridge to form between the guest and host and open up new learning opportunities of each others culture. This way, we won’t be seen as strangers anymore, but can truly understand the people of where we are residing.
I thought I would end up leaving Australia and say that I became a more independent, mature, carefree, and confident person. Many people go abroad to test their maturity and emotional limitations. Already, I have accomplished that, but now being
more mindful, I have gained a greater appreciation for Australia and its people. To incorporate my mindful traveling into being abroad, I have certain things I plan on doing. Walking will continue to be mode of transportation whenever possible. This can help the amount of emissions in the environment that have damaged the ozone layer here. I plan to engage in more conversations to learn about Australians and their lifestyles. I will continuously try to adapt to their lifestyle instead of getting stuck in my old habits. The picture above is a picture when I visited Byron Bay. This was truly the most Aussie place I have visited yet. The Australians were in their natural element – beer in hand, sitting by the water and listening to some music. I truly felt like I finally belonged.
Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning. Sterling, Va: Stylus Pub., LLC, 2010. Print.