If You Wish to Learn

One of the best things that I have ever done was to travel, especially overseas.  I am not dissing traveling in America or Canada.  I have travelled all over the States and all of eastern Canada.  However, overseas travel is the most critically important travel from my perspective.  The British aristocracy added to their 4 years of college with the Grand Tour.  In the last part of the 18th century into the first part of the 19th century, it was fashionable to go on the Grand Tour to primarily Europe and was considered the educational capstone of all their learning.  Even though most went to places in Europe, some of the graduates went to places far away from the European continent.  Regardless of their destination, it provided the second level of learning beyond the books and lectures.

I spent a decade and a half attending college, grad, and post-graduate school at the beginning of my educational experience.  In addition, at this end of my vocational life, I have taught at the college level for two decades.  I will be the first to express my opinion that there is a vast gap between what one learns in a class in the US and what one learns while visiting countries and their people overseas.  Even better than that, go to school overseas for even just a semester.  I studied at New College at the U. Edinburgh for a year; I treasure that educational experience. 

When one goes overseas and experiences the sites and people, the traveler receives a far deeper level of learning than can ever be obtained in a book or class.  It fleshes out ones understanding of any area of education.  For example, you can learn a foreign language like German or French here in the States.  However, spending time learning a language overseas, in the milieu of places like Germany or France, is a far greater educational experience.  Essentially, your learning is 24/7.  Being in a different country provides for the traveler a very different Weltanschauung, worldview.  One learns at a different level.

I have mentioned the critically important aspect of traveling overseas to every class that I have ever taught.  I write about it all the time on my website.  Granted, it is a bit like preaching to the choir, most of the congregation disses what I am saying or at least ignores it.

I am teaching two world religion survey classes this semester.  Each week we study a different religion.  We recently studied the Shinto religion, which emerged in Japan around the 3rd century BCE.  Most of what preceded that is lost.  Additionally, Japan is one of the very few Asian countries in which I haven't spent time traveling. 

At one level, I am capable of explaining Shintoism in a survey class of world religions.  For example, I can explain precisely what a torii is and why it is located where it is.  However, I merely repeat facts and information that I learned in books or in classes.  I haven't been there.  I haven't actually seen the structures in person or stood in awe of them. 


The torii at Itsukushima Shrine

I understand about the use of the floating lanterns in Japan.  They officially end the festival of the dead.  They express the hopes and prayers of those who have lost loved ones.  I comprehend that.  What I can't explain is how I would have felt watching thousands of the floating lanterns ascend skyward.  The details are understood but not any of the emotional experience watching the lanterns float upward.  I cannot express even a close approximation of what the Japanese feel. 


The floating lanterns

What was true about missing the feeling that one would have watching thousands of lantern slowly float into the nighttime sky is equally true of looking at thousands of written prayers at a Shinto shrine.  Believers will write all sorts of personal prayers on an ema.  An ema is a little wooden plaque that contains a prayer.  , Having been to the Wailing Wall or Kotel of the old Temple in Jerusalem, I have some sort of understanding and the feeling of the prayer.


Prayers at a Shinto shrine

I tell my classes about various aspects of Shinto at one level.  However, had I been to Japan, I would have a very different feeling, attitude, and understanding.  This is a personal illustration about what one misses when one doesn't travel overseas. 

True learning awaits you.  You don't want to miss that experience.  It will cost money to travel overseas.  However, not travelling is costlier.  Travel.