Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness….Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.
My foul mood was the result of three things really. One was the snow, as the delay meant I would miss a major recruiting event in China. This was a business trip after all. Two was missing R&R time with my family. But what was really bothering me was having to spend two weeks being uncomfortable. As an American, I am used to being comfortable and used to the rest of the world making me comfortable. (In earlier travels through Central America and Europe everyone spoke English with some competency and shared somewhat Western ways—it made things easy for visiting Americans.)
But China would be different. There would be a complex and mysterious language and new cultural norms, and from what I heard and read, there would be lesser attempts by the locals to speak English or to understand my ways of thinking and being. I would have to adjust, and I could feel myself already taking up the position of the ugly American. Heck, I just finished three paragraphs complaining about a free trip across the globe. What’s uglier than that?
Additionally, I knew I would be eating food that at best I wasn’t interested in and at worst was totally grossed out by, and that I would be living among and interacting with people whose customs and traditions I didn’t understand (and perhaps worst of all didn’t want to understand.)
In short, I’m a huge hypocrite. I have spent my years as both an educator and father imploring my students and my children to be open to growth. I am consistently preaching the importance of leaning into discomfort and embracing failure as the pathway to growth--both personal and academic.
But my attitude about this trip was all wrong. And it was based--like most instances of implicit bias--in ignorance and fear. I’m not proud of it and I don’t know how else to say it. But there it is.
Luckily, I managed to get ahold of myself before I landed in Shanghai and promised myself I would embrace every experience that came my way on this trip. (Perhaps binge-watching the entire Harry Potter movies series on the 16-hour flight gave me renewed perspective. Who knows?) And I did.
You can check out a few more highlights from my trip below.