“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.”
Reflecting on this summer, the words of St Augustine start bouncing around my mind. To travel is to better understand the world in which one lives, but it is more than that. By interacting with other cultures, you gain a better understand of where you come from and how you fit into the world. With an increasingly interconnected world, this perspective is vital.
Each culture has aspects from which another can learn and conversely, each culture has areas where we can strive to learn and grow. America, for example, has a culture shaped by the freedoms with which we have grown up, and to which we have grown accustomed. That freedom has far reaching benefits for those who live here, and because of that this country is a place where many around the world would like to be. But our culture and our society are still imperfect and it is easy to be blinded to the imperfections of one’s own culture and be critical of another.
I had the privilege of a tri-continental summer since I left the campus of William & Mary. A month in Ghana (shout-out to the SPIMA team, truly some of the finest people I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with), a few weeks at home and then two months in London. Amidst many silly anecdotes about sighting Bigfoot, encountering foot long millipedes, and climbing waterfalls, the lessons and experience that emerged were much deeper.
We often interpret the actions of others through schemas we understand, even when the actions have completely different meanings to them. We as a culture – and I as a person – are too quick to pass judgment and not quick enough to listen. This may be true of others from other cultures and probably is, but my concern is with us –how will we as students, as Tribe members, and as American citizens interact with the world? I think a large degree of humility and patience is required. When one travels with that mentality, the benefits come out of a situation that might have otherwise caused a division. The more one seeks to understand other cultures, the more one understands about our own, both the good and the bad.
So the next time you are running into Togo for building supplies or are whisked away by a small, toothless woman trying to sell you fabric, be humble and be understanding of a culture different from your own rather than quick to judge. That is, in fact, what travelling is all about.
Brianna Buch ’15 is studying pre-medicine at the College of William & Mary, working towards degrees in neuroscience and government, and dreams of a career in international development. She is involved on campus with Student Partnership for International Medical Aid (SPIMA), Intervarsity, undergrad research, and can be seen driving the Steer Clear van on occasion.