Expectations: The Ultimate Killer of Travel Dreams

I'm fresh off a three week road trip where I journeyed across the country from Los Angeles to Chicago. Unlike other trips where I read books, watched documentaries, pored over blog posts, and talked to fellow travelers about my destination, my goal for this trip was simply to minimize my expectations. While I did a fair amount of research on local hikes, campgrounds, bear safety (yikes!), etc., I wanted to experience the trip without pre-conceived notions of what others had to say about it. 

Journeying across highways and country roads allowed me to simply observe my surroundings, watching and listening without assigning meaning or making assumptions. This is undoubtedly one of the most difficult feats when it comes to traveling across cultures and regions even within your own country.

When advising my gap year and remote work clients, I  encourage them to start their travels with no expectations. This encourages curiosity and a sense of openness.  When travelers minimize expectations, we become more willing to push out of our comfort zones. We more easily adapt to our new environment, and most importantly, we can more easily stay focused on the present. Silvia Plath knew this approach well...

"If you expect nothing from somebody, you'll never be disappointed." - Silvia plath

In embarking on a trip or cultural experience with an open mind and a sense of curiosity, we can more accurately identify what assumptions we're making about whom. We can more easily see that our perspective is just that--our own small perceptions of the world.


the road trip stats:

  • 11 states

  • 2582 miles

  • four national parks (Zion, Yellowstone, mt rushmore, badlands)

  • six state parks/national forests (Custer sp was my fave)

  • one rodeo outing (CODY, WY)

  • 10 campgrounds/cabins/hotel/guest bedrooms

  • 350 bison watched from afar

  • zero bears seen (fine by me!)


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Global Learning Nerds Unite!

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It's been a busy June! Earlier this month, me and 10,000 other passionate international educators from 100+ countries joined together at the NAFSA 2017 Annual Conference in Downtown Los Angeles (my backyard!).

We talked shop: trends, innovative practices, how to deal with global conflicts, and where the future of meaningful travel is going.

This was my seventh conference and as usual, it fed my [nerdy] global soul!

Meetings over Turkish coffee, networking events across DTLA, thought-provoking professional development sessions, and inspiring training seminars… Add 45+ languages being spoken and you have a global mix of individuals working together to bring the world to young and old.

The best part? I attended workshops by Janet Bennett, Ph.D. and Darla Deardorff, Ph.D., two of the leading researchers in intercultural competence research. Personally, I think they are the biggest reason why meaningful travel is more popular than it’s ever been before.

They have legitimized HOW and WHY breaking out of your comfort zone is so essential to survive in our globalized world.

Intercultural what?

Intercultural competence is a pretty simple concept actually.

It’s about being curious, self-aware, and empathetic towards others. That’s it.

Sure, it seems fluffy on the outside but us travelers know that experiencing a different culture has a huge impact on our identities. Something that has often been indescribable until Drs. Bennett and Deardorff (and a few others!) established its presence and importance.

“We are not truly educated until we have stepped outside our respective countries.” - Isabel Wilkerson

(NAFSA 2017 Plenary Speaker, Pulitzer prize winning journalist, and best-selling author of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration)

"You Live and Learn!"

Lately, the education world has been abuzz with schools, universities, and organizations who are literally tearing down the classroom walls. Students/employees/all humans are using actual experiences--whether it's observing primates, cooking a Moroccan meal from start to finish, or wandering the palace of Versailles--in order to invoke meaningful learning experiences.

This is not a "trendy" 21st century approach to education researchers. John Dewey, education theorist, is considered the grandfather of experiential learning. Decades ago, Dewey said something along the lines of, "We can't just read about the world!"

He claimed there is an organic and intrinsic connection between education and personal experience.

In other words, "you live and learn!"

If Dewey were alive today though, he would wag his finger and tell us experience cannot always stand alone as an educational experience. Nope--everything depends on the QUALITY of the experience, as some experiences may be detrimental to learning. Educators, program designers, and gap year coaches (oh, hey!) play a crucial role in guiding the experience.

Educators, program designers, and learning coaches (oh, hey!) play a crucial role in guiding the experience.

Another "celeb" in the education theory world, Kolb, expanded on Dewey's beliefs. Kolb says that meaningful learning happens as a result of action (observing primates) and reflection (What did you notice about the primates? How did they make you feel when you were watching them from afar?).

Learning occurs only when carefully selected experiences are supported by reflection (thinking/journaling/discussing it), analyzing it (what could it mean?), and synthesizing (this is what it meant!).

There is a lot more to understand about learning--the physiology of it, the motivation behind it, its relationship with memory, and more. Academic researchers haven't even reached the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding how the brain navigates learning processes. 

References:

  • Association for Experiential Education (2015). What is Experiential Education? Retrieved from http://www.aee.org/what-is-ee 
  • Dewey, J. (1998). Experience and education: The 60th Anniversary Edition. West Lafayette: Kappa Delta Pi. 
  • Kolb, A. Y. and Kolb, D. A. (2008). Experiential Learning Theory: A dynamic, holistic approach to management learning, education and development. In Armstrong, S. J. & Funkami, C. (Eds.) Handbook of Management Learning Education and Development. London: Sage Publications. 

The Perfect Book For Your Next Long-Haul Flight

It's the time of year where things are finally slowing down. Whether you want to get a head start on prepping for your summer travels or you really just want some down time to cozy up with a cup of hot chocolate, here's the Intercultural Adventures book club pick:

The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business

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This book is for every person who has ever left their native land for an experience outside the norm. While it's slanted towards jet-setting international business folks, there is so much great info all packed into a few hundred pages. Author Erin Meyer is a U.S. born cross-cultural communication specialist and university professor who lives in Paris with her family. She offers unapologetic stories from her own experiences on the frontlines of cultural exchange as well as sound advice that we can all use--even when exchanging on our own home turf. 

"When interacting with someone from another culture, try to watch more, listen more, and speak less. Listen before you speak and learn before you act."

Meyer gets into location specific details, which are especially helpful for gappers. She touches on major intercultural communication concepts, like direct vs. indirect communication. Are you spending time in China, Japan, India, or Indonesia? Then you'll have to read between the lines for what ISN'T said. The same goes for many African cultures (Kenya and Zimbabwe) and to a lesser degree some Latin American and Latin European cultures. 

The crux of the book outlines a "culture map" that shows how cultures differ from each other and what you, as the "cultural guest" can do to thrive during your next international sojourn.