Back in America: The importance of international travel

I’m tired. Eight cities and towns in 19 days. Abu Dhabi, Dhaka, Kashimpur, Coz Bazaar, Kolkata, Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.

My family and I have been planning this desh trip for so long and anticipating it that I can’t believe it’s finally over. J and his parents met pretty much my entire extended big Bong family, and got to experience the place of my roots. We woke up at dawn to see the Ganges and the Victoria Memorial at sunrise with his dad, traveled the Golden Triangle route with our moms, saw both extreme poverty and extreme wealth, we experienced Dhaka traffic and shopped in 3 different currencies (taka, dirham and rupees). I think I speak for us all when I say the experience is something that none of us will ever forget.

For inter-cultural couples like us and inter-cultural families a la the Jolie-Pitts, I think it’s really important to travel back to the homeland of the person you are with to get a sense of their personal history.

Sorry, not to compare us to the Jolie-Pitts, but the point I’m trying to make is that Angelina and Brad had to go back to Cambodia to truly understand Maddox (and for Maddox to understand himself) just like J had to come to Bangladesh and India to know me.

I’m honored that J came with me, I don’t think he could ever fully “get me” if he didn’t see where I come from. Sure, I was born in the U.S., but my desh trips that my family took me on since childhood had a huge impact on my worldview.

It made me grateful for things we have in the States, like free compulsory education, clean running water, traffic laws, steady electricity and gas, government support for housing and health, etc. Things that people in America think are basic human rights and therefore take for granted. Sure, things aren’t perfect in America, but at least we have it better than many other places in the world.

I think that if more Americans had a passport and traveled abroad like the Aussies and Brits do, that would be an invaluable education and would lead to global connectedness, awareness and gratefulness for the things we have. The world would hate us less and citizens would be less ignorant. Whenever I travel I’m amazed at how much people of other lands know about the U.S. and how little we know about them. Is that a fault of the American school system? Parents?

There was a CNN article last year that explained why Americans don’t travel abroad more. According to the article, only 30% of Americans have passports compared to 75% of folks in the United Kingdom. The reasons for Americans not traveling abroad more are due to a few factors:

– Americans are afraid to go outside their comfort zone
– America has enough geographic and cultural diversity to necessitate traveling abroad
– The American work culture prohibits long vacations
– Americans fear and ignorance of other cultures

I laughed when I read this article. While it has some informative stats, it quotes bloggers who make the case that you don’t have to travel outside the U.S. for culture. “There are so many ethnic enclaves within a city to get a taste of various cultures” one blogger said. I’m sorry but going to Little India in Edison, NJ or Chinatown in SF is not the same experience as traveling to India and China. People who say this kind of crap are the same folks who believe eating a samosa is some sort of rich cultural experience. Food is just a gateway to learning about various cultures.

While we were in India, J learned that the swastika doesn’t always mean “I hate you”, in fact sometimes it means “have some dessert!” Check out this swastika tray at a Delhi sweets shop. I was trying to take a photo of the tray and the dudes who work there thought I was taking a photo of them, so they posed. They are so cute 🙂