This is less of a “nuts and bolts” post and more of a “bigger picture” post. As such it is long and will be less exciting—possibly boring for those not inclined to really consider what I’m saying, so skip it if you like. You have been warned.
After a round of visiting family this holiday season, many in my mom’s side of the family were surprised with the seriousness and scope of the adventure that we are planning, having not yet heard the entirety of the plan. I live just outside Philly, after all, and have a huge, somewhat geographically scattered family. The vast majority of it is no less than three hours away, and the less immediate members I now get to see less often than I would like--most visits are during the holidays. What a range of reactions they had: from getting excited just thinking about it to the quick but potentially crushing—and I quote—“what the hell would you do that for?” This post addresses the latter viewpoint.
For me, a semester in London planted the seed for this adventure. London is a major travel hub of Europe and I was privileged to be able to travel most weekends. Seeing all those different European cultures, complete with individual languages and histories much older than our own, made me look at my home surroundings in a much different way. America is, more than any other place in the world, a glorious mash up of cultures, but unlike Europe, our people have enough in common that we feel a great kinship with each other. This includes a long history of free trade between states that enhances us all, a common government, common historical victories and setbacks, and perhaps most important, a largely common language.
These similarities will assist Sarah, Tom, and I in meeting a wide variety of people during this trip; our differences are what will make it interesting. Faced with the same comment from my dad and maternal grandmother, that people are basically the same wherever you go, I feel a need to point out that while people have the same basic needs including sustinance, shelter, security, and others that are (and create) common traits, collectively we form vastly different cultures. I am talking about the real stuff. I am talking about the stuff of passion. I am talking about music, art, religious beliefs, types of food, hobbies, traditional cultures and subcultures. I am talking about the stuff that makes some areas’ political systems corrupt and some clean, the stuff that creates movements, the stuff that goes down in history as the passion and purpose of a people, and the stuff that fits into the top of Maslow’s crazy triangular stack of priorities. This stuff will not be the same from one place to another. This is what I am looking for.
I could wait until I am retired, another suggestion and more conventional approach from the pragmatic members of my family. In doing so, I fear that I may trade in my sense of adventure for a desire of comfort. Regardless of where I travel to (if I travel) I will stay in a three star plus hotel, watch CNBC or CNN in the morning and I will have dinner and drinks in bars that are full of people just like me in the evening. When someone comes to me to suggest an adventure to explore culture, I will decline, suggesting from my experiences that “people are the same wherever you go anyway.” To be clear, I do look forward to the prospect of aging, learning new priorities, establishing new hobbies, having a family, trying to thrive in the corporate landscape, and experiencing all the adventures that come from the life that I see myself as likely to live. But not yet. Right now is the time to for exploration, and to seek things that would challenge my beliefs before they are too firm. I don’t think that the land or cultures will change but I certainly may. At the very least my priorities will.
Because the internet makes us all creators and consumers of entertainment, we have the opportunity to do something that others seeking this realization in the past have been less able and likely to do: share it with the world.