Lillian Smith, Social critic & writer
There is a peculiar paradox that sits at the center of the educational travel world.
Educational tours are structured to provide students and travelers with the very best resources to help them deeply understand the new places they explore on tour. EF Tour Directors are experts in the history and culture of their regions. They can answer any question and guide any traveler to ensure that nobody ever feels confused or lost.
But isn’t exploring the unknown the very reason we encourage people to travel in the first place? It’s only by straying away from the beaten path that a traveler can be challenged to understand a new place. Travelers need to be curious, but they also need to be given the space and time to wander and wonder. Immersing yourself in a culture, interviewing a local business owner, or scanning the pages of a foreign newspaper can truly alter your perspective. It’s through the process of getting lost that students can develop the most pressing and interesting questions.
The first step we can take towards resolving the challenge is to encourage our students to ‘travel like an anthropologist,’ always making observations and recording questions. At first glance, mindful travel such as this can be a tall order. So, I recommend a structure called DIVE.
To make meaning of a challenging and consuming experience, we need to encourage our travelers to look closely and record their thoughts. When students arrive in a foreign place, it’s essential that they observe intensely and DESCRIBE what they see; recording early impressions is essential to later recognition of growth. Next, be curious and INTERVIEW the new people you meet. What is their perspective; what stories do they have to tell? After collecting this authentic data, VERIFY your answers by consulting a broader array of resources (this is where teachers and tour directors step in). Finally, and only then, EVALUATE your discoveries. To deftly navigate the world, we need to understand the cultural and geographic landscape under our feet. We need to appreciate the ways that we alter the landscape, and how fundamentally that landscape then changes us.
The cliché about travel is that it broadens horizons. But if you don’t practice mindful travel, recording as you go, how will you ever know your growth? So go forth and travel like an anthropologist, always being thoughtful about the stories your chosen path has to offer while at the same time working hard to understand how this path is changing you.