Arts people are Citizens of the World, many viewing travel as more than just a vacation. For the next few weeks, WOA blog will be featuring several guest blog posts by Arts alumni, faculty, staff or students about how travel gave them a new perspective.
It’s one thing to read about other countries and cultures, it’s another to go and experience them directly.
My parents took our family to Europe for eight months when I was a teenager. It helped a lot that they are first generation immigrants from Switzerland and Germany, so we have a lot of relatives spread out through Western Europe. As a father, I wanted to pass on the gift of an extended travel experience to my own children, so I took my teenage daughters to Europe for six months.
It was a great learning process for me both times – but very different! When I went as a child, I was free to just enjoy… looking for castles in Spain, riding bicycles beside the vineyards in France, or reading the Lord of the Rings series in Switzerland. But as a single parent of two girls, I was responsible for all of the logistics: where to eat, what side of the road to drive on, and finding affordable accommodation and good libraries.
We can learn from each other, no matter what language we speak.
There were many adventures. We bought a car in Brussels (and ate piles of waffles with our cousins there) and then drove 20,000 km and visited 14 countries. During our travels we visited more than 50 relatives, many for the first time. Distances are different in Europe than Canada. It takes about three hours to get from Brussels to Paris, similar to driving from Edmonton to Calgary. This allowed us to be very flexible, for example to offer to meet Swiss relatives literally anywhere in Switzerland for a coffee – if that was all the time they had!
One major challenge during the trip was that my youngest daughter and I were both studying, me in the Communications & Technology Graduate Program at the University of Alberta, she in grade 10. As students, we were always on the hunt for good places to study – so one of the fun activities was to find libraries near our accommodation during our travels. We ended up finding libraries in interesting places. It was pretty amazing to be on the seventh floor of the Amsterdam Public Library – looking down at the boats passing in the canals below – while doing research for a U of A course. Later in the trip, my daughters went on the Edinburgh ghost tour while I studied in the National Library of Scotland. And even while I was studying in these beautiful libraries in Europe, I was feeling so lucky to know that my home city of Edmonton has a public library that won the Library of the Year award, and to work on the University of Alberta campus with such a fantastic and welcoming library system.
During my travels, I learned a lot about how things are different in other countries. But many of the core issues are still the same and we can learn from each other, no matter what language we speak. Technology might make it possible to study anywhere in the world, but walking the streets of Paris and London gives you a much better connection to them than any mapping app. And meeting family and friends in person allows us to have a much more nuanced conversation. No matter where we come from, we still have to drive in the correct lanes, pass the salt, and find the libraries!