I’m in Italy, therefore I must write an article about travel. To be honest I never used to like travel, in fact you could say I actively disliked it. I was a pretty pretentious preteen and the thought of being dragged off to another city (much less country) was absolutely silly when I had a perfectly capable brain that functioned quite well in my hometown. But for some reason I decided that it was a fundamentally important part of my education that I should miss out on spring term of my senior year in order to study abroad at least once before I graduated.
To be honest, I didn’t even really want to come to Italy. I’m still not quite sure that I’m even interested in the classes I’m taking. But, I still think that travel is a fundamentally important, transformative part of a college experience. There are two things that come to mind most when I think about travel and education. Firstly, it’s not something you can really predetermine. While we like to think that education can follow a set path for a majority of people, the reality is that it’s something you have to approach yourself. If you’re not ready for it, it’s just not going to have the effect that you want. It reaffirms my opinion that education is far too overdetermined. We assume that the majority of people will learn the same way and so we can teach them the same way.
But the most important thing I have learned is the second part: context matters. It would seem, especially given the existence of the internet, that location is becoming less and less relevant over time. If I can have a thought in Northfield, how does moving to Rome change that thought? But it does. It changes the thought because there is a whole new set of concerns that you go through when you exist in a different space. The biggest shift in my own thinking hasn’t come from the new things I’ve learned about (the popes, the 13th century, etc.) but in the old things that I am forced to think about in a new way.
I suppose that this is in part because I haven’t really ever been this close to being under my own volition. Previously I only traveled with my family, which is a whole different story. But I think there’s something even more fundamental to the way we think and act as humans that travel has the potential to change. On some level, all humans are world builders. Like Tolkien, though with less fiction, we go around piecing together different elements of a world (whether real or fictional) in order to understand how that world works and why it behaves the way it does. For the most of our lives, the logic that defines the environment of that world doesn’t change. We exist in the same place and while our opinions will be challenged by things that exist around us, it will always be in a space within which we can rationalize problems away.
When we travel, this changes; traveling involves changing the very logic of the environment that we depend upon for survival. When we travel the world we are building can no longer be predetermined by the things we already know. We are forced to shapeshift and transform, to create new logics in the face of new contexts. Travel is one of the few times that the boundary between fantasy and reality is weakened. Going to new places often reminds me of fantastical worlds I have seen in the games, movies, and books I’ve experienced.
Humans are context dependent creatures. Travel reveals just how much our thoughts, dreams, hopes, and opinions are informed by the places we are in. It’s good to be reminded sometimes that our bodies in fact do matter. If there’s anything I’ve learned the most from Italy, it’s that the best chance we have as individuals and communities to be happy, successful, and fulfilled is to transform and find the world(s) that we can be most happy in.