I am writing this at a desk in southern Minnesota. The world is in the middle of a pandemic. Flights are grounded. In six months, I will move to Seoul, South Korea with Minerva Schools. Then Hyderabad. Then Berlin. Then Buenos Aires. Then London. Then finally, Taipei.
Stories will be written — vast, grand, historical stories — about how the world responded to COVID-19 and what we could have done better. They will critique our government lockdowns, our mask restrictions, our vaccine rollouts. …
As I write about international travel, I fear that I’ve painted a broad brush stroke where there shouldn’t be one.
Stanley Fish claims that all language is constructed by our communities — essentially, we can use the same words and still not convey our meaning. “Cold” to a Minnesotan means something different to a Texan, and vice versa. It’s the same with “travel.”
I traveled out of free choice because I was curious about the world and, (by living in hostels, doing work-exchanges, finding $200.00 housing), I was able to do it.
Yet the world is filled with forced travel…
I’ve fluctuated back and forth how to feel about my country: specifically, how to feel about being an American abroad. I used to take it as a compliment when people mistook me for being Russian (once in an airport, at least until I started talking) or mostly, German (I am Minnesotan).
What’s up with culture shock?
I come from a tiny town (Red Wing, Minnesota) and I’ve lived in/spent time in some big cities (Seattle, San Francisco, Dakar, Vancouver, Puerto Vallarta). I’ve tried to grapple with the urban-rural divide during COVID-19:
Before I moved away from my tiny hometown, my mother’s friend Neela said: Travel will change your life. After four years, I’m trying to decide: did it? Did travel really make me a different individual?
Here are some interesting points:
Americans were upset when we discovered that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. But we’ve been doing that to other countries for years — in Chile (1811), Japan and China(1854), Puerto Rico and the Philippines (1898), Nicaragua (1909), and Haiti (1915–1934).
Maybe the U.S. should have some foreign intervention:
The way the United States reports news — by outlets from the New York Times to the Nation — is bubble-wrapped. (I.e. we only relate global events to Americans if said events impact our country.) North Korea is more likely to hit our front page than any rising African nation: Senegal, Morocco, Nigeria; China is talked about not as a global superpower, but as our leading trade opponent, and Mexico = illegal border immigration. Some alternatives:
After foraging as hunter-gatherers, humans upgraded to agricultural communities, where we raised families, ate corn, and lived a spectacular existence — in one place. I grew up in a small Minnesotan river town for the first eighteen years of my life, then left to live in Senegal, now move around the world every three to four months. And I’m struggling with “home” as a concept:
The Old Definition. Home is “the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.” This, for me, is Red Wing. …
In the spring of 2019, I rented a little red-roofed apartment on Koh Samui from a local Thai lady. I’d been living and working at an English-speaking co-living space, so when I moved out, I was quite alone. Looking back, here’s what realizations that experience left behind:
Writer @ The Minerva Quest, HuffPost, MinnPost, and Global Citizen Year