Feb 032008
Authors: Dr. Eric Aoki

To be humbled into existence by travel and cultural contact-this outcome is a benefit that I have received through my life’s travel journeys.

I remember the first time that my aunt and uncle took my siblings and me to a planetarium in northern California.

When the show began, it took only a few minutes for me to feel that sense of wonder, awe and humility that works magic on one’s eyes and emotions, both young and old alike. In the vastness of the reproduced solar system, I felt humbled.

Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t feel inconsequential by the vastness, rather I felt that sense of humility that makes you want to accomplish something important in your lifetime so that you can give back to that vastness, give back to the beauty.

Traveling and cultural contact with a diverse array of individuals has gifted me the same type of awe, wonder, and humility that the planetarium of my youth provided.

Since prioritizing travel to different national and international destinations, I believe my skill sets and more generally my humanity have been positively altered. My travel experiences have also given me the ability to ask more and different questions, experience new experiences, benefit from enhanced self-awareness and walk a bit more humbly in the day-to-day of life.

Although I still have my own cultured preferences for how I like things done, or what I’d like to do and even eat, travel and interacting with global others has given me more skills and patience to know that my way, my experiences and my preferences are one of many in how needs and desires get met in this world, an how cultural logics work similarly and differently to accomplish tasks in everyday life.

Additionally, I have discovered things about myself that I did not previously know or know how to do — e.g. eating all types of international foods I would have likely never considered or even thought to eat, wrapping a turban (which is as light as my ball cap) in two different ways and that the different day and hour orientations people use time in places like Barcelona or even Buenos Aires is a good fit to how I prefer to live out my day and in how my body-clock prefers to operate.

As an ethnic minority of the U.S. (I’m of Japanese and Mexican heritage), I’ve learned that my interactions with individuals in Paris, for example, did not fit the cultural stereotype of what I had been told interactions would be like there.

This outcome was one of the first clear examples to illustrate that, while being U.S. American is an important part of my identity, my heritage and language orientations influence cultured responses in particular ways, too.

To be fair, in almost every context I’ve traveled to, I’ve learned that some stereotypes hold and many break down, even stereotypes used to describe people and places in my own country of residence.

As someone who just goes, I still see travel as a privilege. At almost 40 years of age, I have had an amazing run of travel adventures that mostly started in my mid-twenties.

As I help my student-advisees these days talk out their schedules to fit in a study abroad trip or an interesting post-graduation journey, I smile from ear to ear because I know that when they return, they will not come back the same.

Through excitement and cultural challenge, I know they will have a different lens to see themselves, the world, and the issues we face, globally, in a more connected and complex way.

And, without fail and with an exceptional amount of joy, each semester I get several notes from students who are out there having the times of their lives.

As an intercultural scholar and global citizen, the only thing better than living and learning vicariously through my students’ often first time, eye-opening experiences, is to take the money saved and just get on a plane and go.

Dr. Eric Aoki is an associate professor for the Department of Speech Communications. His column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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