The world seems smaller every day. Using the Internet, you can “go” to any part of it in a matter of seconds.
Gone are the days of ogling a map, imagining strolling Parisian streets or sailing near the Galapagos Islands. Google Street View and Google Earth give you a taste of each, along with an underwater look at the Great Barrier Reef.
Later, you can jump online and speak with people in each place. You ask questions about their lives, their country and their health care. They tell you their favorite food, what they’re studying in “uni” and ask you the same. Instant connections and knowledge: these are the gifts of the Internet. There’s really not a reason to spend money actually traveling.
But there is. Not just one, but hundreds, thousands, of them you’d never even realize without actually going.
During spring break, a group of Amarillo College students had a chance to travel to Europe thanks to a new global competency program.
Many had never been farther than the Texas border. One had never been on a plane. Most said they wouldn’t have traveled internationally, at least not at this point in their lives. Without the new program, they may never have experienced global travel.
The trip was life-changing, they said. Each student researched certain locations and aspects of the cities they would visit. They gathered information, created presentations and wrote papers. They watched movies and clicked through images online.
None of it compared to actually being there: touching the Berlin Wall and realizing it was no wider than an open palm; walking in the footsteps of concentration camp prisoners and feeling the claustrophobia of the extermination showers; wandering through a grocery store and seeing the familiar brands from home next to the unknowns of another country.
Textbooks and tests are important. Research and writing also are key. But an education is not complete until a student has chance for hands-on training, which is exactly what traveling is.
AC has come a long way in its classroom offerings. But there are only two groups who have the opportunity for global travel: the Presidential Scholars and now, the Global Competency Scholars. It’s time to invest, and invest substantially more, in global travel open to all students.
In an ever-changing and shrinking world, traveling is a necessary part of a complete education. Of course, any traveling, as long as it gets you out of the familiar and into interactions with different people, opinions and cultures, is better than no travel. Just getting out of the Panhandle to see how those beyond the plains live is important.
But traveling globally really lets you see not only the stark differences among countries, but the similarities that reoccur in every community. You can contrast the daily life while also noticing the everyday struggles and accomplishments we all share.
It’s something the coordinators of the new course realized last year and worked to make a reality. It’s something the rest of the college should recognize and work to make a reality every year and to which we need to consistently dedicate money to ensure that students have a variety of travel opportunities.
You can look up other currency and find the equivalent of a dollar. But until a Czech gas station attendant yells at you for using a 500-crown note to buy a bottle of water, you won’t know what it’s like to spend it.
You can watch a film about a revolution and feel your heart clench in sadness. But it won’t really feel complete until you visit the memorial. You won’t realize your experience wasn’t whole until you feel that last little piece click in.
You can listen to an experienced traveler tell you how very young the United States is. But until you walk the narrow,, sloping streets yourself and realize that many of the cobblestones you feel under your feet are older than our entire country, it won’t really make sense.
Travel is crucial for a well-rounded citizen of the world.
We hope this year was just the beginning in giving more students the opportunity to participate.