I consider myself an academic. That is, I like to do research and most of my adult life up until this point has been in some manner, dedicated to learning.
This, to a large extent, has informed how I travel. Unlike some folks, I don’t always travel extensively when I can afford it, I travel when I have an agenda. Travel to me, thus far at least, has been one of two things: an investment into my sanity via relaxation, or an investment into my future, via experiences or education.
I’m always in school.
My first big trip by myself was to Japan in 2007, I was 15. How I got there wasn’t merely a “Hey, we got a letter in the mail, wanna go to Japan?”
It was my parents saying, “Jesus, my daughter’s been into this anime stuff for a while, she’s going to wanna go.”
My personality is what made the Japan trip so damn serendipitous. You see, I don’t tend to ingest media as it is. I have to know more about how and why it works. If you’ve ever glanced at an anime or manga for example, you’ve probably had some questions like, “Why is that guy’s nose bleeding all of a sudden?“
Which is why by the time I ended up in Japan, I knew a lot about it up front. I knew words and phrases in Japanese, I knew how to properly enter a Shinto temple, I could tell you anime studios and famous video game developers. I went to see all of that for myself, and Japan met me with a,
“You have no idea how little you know and how much I have to teach you.”
I came back from Japan with my skull blown wide open. There was so much more out there. Japan was so significant for me, I think, because it was the mythical Orient made real. I grew up in a Western civilization, one of the quintessential ones, and going East meant seeing another side of things, literally and figuratively. That’s not to say that Japan and the US don’t have much in common, that’s far from the truth. However historically speaking, Japan’s everything is inspired by something entirely different.
I crave those kinds of experiences when I travel. I want to not only be moved by the sights and the people, but I want to walk away with another layer of another world peeled back. I want to understand just a little bit more, each time.
Going to Brazil was a similar situation. I had come to know Brazil from years of writing about its Black population in African diaspora and sociology courses, a year of Portuguese, and lots and lots of bossa nova, samba, and baile funk. When I got there, I was at many times, mistaken for a Baiana, I witnessed the struggles of Black Brasileiros on the news, and learned new styles of music from forró to axé. Not to mention my Portuguese. My tongue got a workout trying to keep up with Baianos!
France was a little different, I must admit. I sort of ended up in France. I went to participate in a seminar on how cultural preservation contributes to world peace, submitting my own perspective on the matter that I was going to present on. Europe wasn’t ever really on my radar, I’m afraid to say. I just… I’m from the West, like I said, Europe is the West, so I didn’t think Europe had anything to teach me. While I was only in France for a week, I learned a lot of basic American Tourist lessons. For one, not everybody speaks English! After years of taking international travel seriously, I waltzed into France with only cursory knowledge of certain phrases and words, the only ones I truly mastered were poulet [chicken] and Parlez-vous anglais? [Do you speak English?] The moment I was met with my first, “Quoi?” I realized I was in trouble.
So at once, I was doing my best impression of an adult, wearing business casual and discussing a nation’s responsibility to protect human cultural product, and the other I was struggling to say “Où sont les toilettes?” [Where is the bathroom?]. France humbled me, and for that I’m super duper grateful.
Not all lessons learned abroad are academic in nature, and as a young adult, I’m working to make the moves to build the best foundation possible going forward for me. So even as I take my next steps, back to Europe, to learn more about the Spanish language and culture, I look forward to being proven wrong, humbled, and defeated on the daily.
There’s still so much more to learn.
How do you travel? Leisure, work, or academia?