Friday, January 24, 2014

The dilemma of traveling

"At times the pull toward adventure is so strong that I can feel its physical strain on my body. Like I'm being slowly torn into the pieces of myself that are willing and able to take flight, and the others that are inextricably tied to the ground. It's a tension that years of travel seem to exacerbate rather than relieve."

          This quote was recently posted to a friend's facebook page. I have no idea who actually said it, but I completely identify with it. Anyone who knows me knows that I really love to travel. This passion was placed in me at a young age. Every summer of my childhood my family would take a week or two in the summer and taker our pop-up camper and go explore a new part of the country. By the age of ten, I had been to more states than most American adults. But still, I wanted to see more. Studying abroad in Europe during college opened up an entire new continent. And last year I was able to travel to the Middle East. And every time I go somewhere new, my world seems to open up a bit more.
          This last trip was no exception. Even though the places were not so far apart, the cultures Cara and I encountered were vasty different. But they were also intricately connected. The Austro-Hungarian empire at one time controlled much of the Balkans and much of the architecture I see in Osijek was built during this empire.  In each of the places we visited, we tried to ask questions to locals, visit museums, and participate in cultural activities (such as drinking coffee and swimming in the famous Budapest baths) in order to learn history and a bit of the culture. This was especially important to me as I am here in this part of the world for the next few years and I want to understand this culture. And the more we traveled and learn, the more the people and connections began to make more sense to me.
          And seeing these historical places in person means so much than just reading about them in books. It is true, that could learn about Croatia by reading books. I could even come to understand the history of the entire area by talking to Croatians in Osijek. But by traveling to these new places, I was able to broaden my perspective and hear different sides of the story. It is one thing to hear about Vienna from afar, but another thing to experience it in person. And hearing about the corrupt health care system in Hungary had a lot more meaning when it was coming from a born and bred Hungarian in Budapest.
          However, the more we traveled and learned, the more curious I became and I wanted to see and learn more. I do not believe this is a bad thing; I believe curiosity and openness to new ideas is great. And everyone should take the time to travel and learn more about the world around them. But I also realize that traveling is a privilege. Not everyone has the opportunity to travel and see new places. I do not consider myself rich... most people would be surprised about the amount of loans I have from college and the lack of money I have in my savings account. And I have made the decision to live very simply and then spend my money traveling. But I realize that I am a white, middle-class American who is a part of a fully-funded program. I am incredibly lucky to be in the situation I am in and I am taking full advantage to the opportunities that have been offered to me. But, it is also hard for me to reconcile this with the fact that others don't have these opportunities. And as part of my Mennonite upbringing, I want to have solidarity with the poor and suffering. How can I do this, while traveling and seeing the world?
          I don't plan on stopping traveling. Already, I am planning the visits of two friends who will be coming in the next few months. And as I met people from other parts of Europe, I plan to go and visit them at some point while I am living here on this continent. But I am also trying to be content where I am and making friends with people who do not have the same opportunities to travel. I believe there is true worth in knowing about one place deeply and intimately instead of a little knowledge of a hundred places. I believe that I have so much to learn here in Osijek, even if at times it doesn't seem that way. I made it my mission to meet these people and learn while I am here. In order to do this, I joined the Couch Surfing community.
          This might seem like a strange way to meet people, but I discovered that there are a lot of people from Osijek who are interested in traveling and meeting new people. Not all of them can actually host, but they are very willing to meet up for coffee and hang out. Last Saturday, I met three such people and had a really good time. It felt great to learn more about Croatia from Croatians. We had great conversation and I even got to practice speaking my Croatian a little. I am meeting some more Couch Surfers tomorrow and I truly look forward to this time of learning and making new friends. There are some really awesome people out there and I am using these next few months to stay in one place and learn what I can.

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