Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Do you have a passport?

I've read that more than 3 out of 4 Americans don't have a passport. Not good. America's a big country and one of the most diverse on Earth. We went on a 2,500 mile camping trip around the national parks of the Southwest a few years ago, and it was great. But spending time in other countries provides more than a vacation, more than scenic wonders, more than kicking back at a nice resort. International travel can give you a perspective that's reinforced by physical sensations, personal experience...things you can fall back on later, for a kind of mental nourishment and perspective.

That's even true here in Silicon Valley. My spouse and I have friends from Russia, Ukraine, India, Kyrgyzstan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, Scotland, England, Germany, Brazil, and the South (for me it counts as another country). But that's no substitute for breathing another country's air, having to negotiate currency exchange and all the myriad customs and procedures every country has, but which non-travelers take for granted.

We're going to Indonesia ourselves in a few days for a few weeks, traveling with an Indian, several Russians, and a Ukrainian. So we'll be getting multiple cultural perspectives.

People who discuss domestic American politics with no personal experience of how people and governments operate in other countries are flying half-blind--though they rarely realize it.

Of course a few weeks' vacation somewhere doesn't make you an expert. But if you balance that with reading up on that country, you can get a lot out of even fairly brief experiences. We honeymooned in Japan. Just 10 days there, going from Tokyo to the Japanese Alps to Kyoto and back on the bullet train. But I've seen literally hundreds of Japanese movies and studied the country's history and culture. The trip helped. The movies helped. The reading helped. Now at least when I want to consider the Japanese approach to a political issue I have the needed background to start.

So at least I'm eating my own dogfood.

And if you don't have a passport, get one. International travel doesn't have to be all that difficult. Go to an unfamiliar country for the first time with a group that's been there before. That's what we did with Indonesia. Now we're the ones introducing others to the country/language/culture etc.

Lastly, you'll never truly know what it means to be an American until you've traveled abroad.

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