August 15, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 17

Travel can be educational as well as relaxing

Write to the Point

On Monday, Aug. 5, actually early Tuesday morning, I returned home from my third mission trip to Guatemala. It was my third trip to this country, second consecutive year, and I have no doubt it will not be my last.

As with my first two trips, I learned a lot, experienced a lot and return home with new insights and in some cases, emotions. I also carry changed attitudes and, hopefully, expanded and reinforced beliefs.

One of those is a renewed sense of the educational value of travel. Yes, I realize a mission trip is different from a normal vacation – believe me, I do.

Most of us view vacations as a chance to get away from work and other aspects of our daily lives and relax by the pool, lakeside, go boating, maybe take in a show somewhere, golf, gamble or visit relatives. Good activities, well maybe not so much gambling. But chances are that wherever we go, there are some historical or cultural aspects to the place that if we took an hour or two to get away from the pool, might enlighten us to things about our past, clues about ourselves and hints of our future.

Even little afternoon jaunts around our region can be revealing. Just ask the folks at the Cheney-Spokane Chapter of the Ice Age Floods Institute.

Sometimes getting to these educational opportunities presents challenges. You might have to drive a bit, or even hike. They’re not always glamorous and exciting either.

Weather can be an issue too, especially if you’re hiking. But often what you see and experience is worth the effort.

Another thing I learned, or maybe unlearned, is that traveling to foreign lands isn’t for everybody. After my trip in 2008, I returned feeling that everyone should experience going to a different country and working in a culture not like our own.

After returning home from Guatemala last year, I began to have second thoughts. Many countries are vastly different from ours in many ways, and unless you’re doing the travel brochure trip, some of us, maybe many of us, aren’t equipped mentally and emotionally to handle the differences.

In some cases, the term “Ugly American” comes to mind and I don’t think we need more of those.

As I said at the beginning, I gained a host of new experiences and insights in my 10 days “in country” – too much to fully explain in several pages, let alone 400-600 words. I’ll write more later, and maybe even for this paper.

But one final insight gained was this: In many senses, it’s not the people we visit who always need the help. After 10 days in Guatemala, despite the heat and humidity, lack of good roads, safe drinking water, torrential rains, poverty conditions far worse than the U.S. and other challenges, I felt it was the indigenous people we visited, the Q’eqchi Maya, who had the better more meaningful life.

And for the first time, I wasn’t exactly excited to return home.

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