An interesting phenomenon occurs while abroad when two travelers meet. When I am at home and meet someone new, there is a set list of questions that occur. It’s the equivalent of two dogs meeting, sniffing one another’s asses and trying to figure out who’s the alpha. Almost immediately after learning someone’s name, the very next question that’s asked is about employment, because that is how people are valued in our culture. Rarely does the conversation turn to asking what you enjoy, and if it does, there’s a sheepishness about it, as if pursuing what you enjoy is frivolous and a waste of one’s time.
Outside the country, however, you learn where people are from, how long they are traveling, and most interesting to me, where they’ve been. You swap notes and compare experiences, share little things you’ve learned along the way that might lubricate the other person’s trip. Where a sort of competitiveness arises in the US, when I was abroad I found nothing but a sense of co-operation and willingness to help.
I’m trying to imagine having this sort of exchange with someone new here in the US. Even if we didn’t literally talk about travel, what if when we met, we could share what we’ve learned from where we’ve been and learn from others about what they’ve learned from where they’ve been? How might that shape our identity on both the individual level as well as community and even national level?
I have found one exception to this: the community of writers with which I am becoming engaged. We share what we’ve learned with one another, encourage each other and urge one another on. It’s my desire to have this in every aspect of my life.