Travel and privilege

 

Lucky ducks

Hannah is missing six teeth, and likes to recount to anyone who will listen:

I lost this one on the Mass Pike and this one in Jordan and this one in Jerusalem and this one in Italy and this one in Massachusetts…and only one in Delaware!

Family and close friends laugh at this routine, but I can never tell what others are thinking: 

…that spoiled kid!
I’m jealous.
Where are those places, anyway?
Would you hurry up and grow some big-kid teeth, please?

I’m starting to feel a little awkward about advertising all the places we have been. Our year on was a ridiculous privilege, and I hope I’ve always named it as such. It required two financial sponsors, as well as family savings, and the security of knowing that we had shelter and at least one job waiting on the other end. We had previous travel and expatriate experience; on my side of the family, my daughters are in the fourth consecutive generation to live abroad as a child or adolescent. Terence had been to Israel twice and studied and taught about the region (though I was flying blind). We had family support, educational attainment, good health, local contacts, every advantage you could wish for except Hebrew or Arabic language skills.

Itemizing all this, I see how truly fortunate we were, and are still. And yet, and yet. It bums me out that international travel is such a luxury. I can’t tell whether it’s an actual or just perceived luxury. I mean, plenty of Americans believe they can’t afford to go overseas, but drop thousands on a trip to Disney World. Here perhaps it’s a question of priorities. My kids are advocating for a trip to Disney, but it’s not in the cards right now. (This year taught me a lot about budgeting and values). 

I wish more kids could travel overseas, even if that meant fewer saw Epcot. What will it take to make that happen?

Global awareness. Cross cultural competency. Twenty first century skills. These are such buzzwords in American education, and schools aim after these concepts in various ways. Educators fret over the OECD data, showing American students as at best average among our global peers. Our home state has just started a world language immersion program, which starts kids on Mandarin and Spanish as early as kindergarten, and imports instructors from China and Spain. Other schools here look abroad for curricular models, like ‘Singapore math.’ Independent schools enroll more and more international students. Friends hosted an exchange student for a semester.

All of this benefits American students and helps them understand the world and appreciate other cultures. But there’s no substitute for getting on a plane and experiencing it, and I wish more resources could be directed at that. Of course there are school exchange programs and similar opportunities, but other countries seem to have figured this out better. When we were passing through airport after airport en route home, we kept bumping into huge groups of school kids on summer trips. None of them were American. Almost all of my friends from London took “gap years” before university. I think only one of my American friends did that. Of course, it’s easier and cheaper to go abroad with Europe as your starting point. But I’ve met tons of Australians and New Zealanders while traveling, so it’s definitely possible to do it from anywhere.

This past year re-ignited my passion for international travel and turned it from a “nice to have” to a “non-negotiable” for me, and for my family. Yes, we have plenty of privilege. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy to incorporate international trips into our lives. It will limit other options and expenditures and shape our professional choices. But we will make it happen. We need to go abroad in 2013 to make the habit stick; otherwise this ‘year on’ could turn into a lovely memory, a cool thing we once did. And in addition to bringing my own kids abroad, I want to give some thought to how to extend these travel opportunities to more kids in more schools.

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About hilarymead

Taking two young kids, a great husband, and a whole lot of questions to Jerusalem for a year's sabbatical.
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