Not everybody eats the same food, creates the same art or even drives on the same side of the street. Not everybody speaks the same language or lives by the same rules and regulations or even believes in the importance of ice in their water glasses.
It’s good to know this. It is eye-opening and mind-expanding all at the same time.
The first time you see someone washing clothes in a stream, the first time you come across a toilet that makes noises and squirts water – or one that’s just a hole in the ground, the first time you try to read a sign that uses lettering other than the Roman alphabet, are the first times you learn that the world is much bigger and more rich than you’d ever before imagined.
Summer break provides a new and different kind of education when it allows families to head out to distant adventures together. It doesn’t require crossing oceans to find different vistas both physically and culturally. It can happen to some extent in the next park, the next town, the next state.
Travel can happen in books, which take you not only to new places but to new times. It can happen through news, which takes you even to places you may not ever be able to visit.
But travel you do with your own time and legs and energy can be especially rewarding.
A hike in the mountains can bring greater understanding of geology or the water cycle, and close-up views of different plants and new animals. A visit to a neighboring state can bring new perspective on history, new views of nature, new information on traditions.
And when opportunities arise, travel overseas can broaden perspectives to those whose minds are open and whose curiosity is strong.
I had just finished high school when my parents decided to take all six of us kids along for my dad’s sabbatical to New Zealand, despite the financial challenge it presented.
In six months there, we learned Maori dances, we climbed paddocks filled with sheep, we watched rugby games, we ate fish ‘n’ chips, we learned that even with a shared language, some things had different names like trunks being boots and expensive things being dear. And we met wonderful people.
And every trip since has allowed opportunities to learn from people and about cultures: What they celebrate, how they celebrate it, how they worship, what they’ve built, how they greet each other, what they talk about.
I found myself on the other side of the cultural experience last week, as visitors from France stayed at our home during Summerfest.
I watched as they discovered the differences between our countries and I tried to answer, in my poor excuse for French, their questions about the way our showers work, how we name our streets, why we tip, how much we pay in taxes and what the various billboards on our highways are advertising.
And I watched as they gathered each morning, an hour before we were to head out, and sat around the table visiting and eating...slowly.
While they sat, I stood at the sink, nibbling a bit here and grabbing a drink there. I read a few pages of the paper, ran upstairs to gather this and that, crammed a few dishes in the dishwasher, gulped another bite down and ran a few things out to the car.
After three days of this, one of my guests signaled to the chair next to her at the breakfast table and said to me: Soyez tranquille. Or in English: Be calm.
I tried it for the next couple of days. I got everything ready and I sat quietly and visited for almost an entire hour in the morning. And it wasn’t painful. And I might try it again in a few months.
When you travel, or when you spend time with travelers, you can’t help but learn.
And what you learn just might make the world even more incredibly amazing and life even more remarkably rich.