Oct. 2, 2013
This week's "From the Editor" comes from guest blogger Jim Peck, Big Ten Network executive producer and director of University Photography and Videography at MSU.
I’m sitting in my room, in St. Petersburg, Fla., looking out at the Gulf. I’ve seen a lot of bodies of water this year, from the Indian Ocean to Lake Michigan, from the Red Sea to the Red Cedar River—and tonight, the Gulf of Mexico. From behind the glass doors (Of course I’m inside. It’s HOT out there!) I can see boats in their slips. Tucked away. Safe harbor. They all look sleek and glamorous and sea-worthy.
Sitting here, tapping away to you, I realize I’m a little like those boats. I’m nestled inside this hotel. It’s my own safe harbor for the night, but I am travel-worthy. A look across the room and I see my gear. If I wanted, or if I was needed, I’d be ready to head out toward the world. I’ve got my passport, toothbrush and underpants. Ready. Set. Sometimes I feel like I’m always half waiting for “GO.”
Like the students you’ll meet in the VIDEO FEATURE I put together, I’m learning a lot about the world and myself by traveling. They’re a lot younger than I, but hanging out with them in Japan was terrific.
Some are first-time travelers so I got to blather on and on about how I use Yelp and why I carry sanitizing wipes instead of gel and all sorts of other important traveler stuff.
Freshman Isaac Anguiano told me he can’t believe how cool it is that he actually got to go to Japan before he even starts classes at MSU. This is a kid who wants to study international finance so he can help people learn about money and help them skip the mistakes he’s seen so many people around him make. When he got the call and found out his “GO” was going to be a trip to Japan, he made himself ready. He packed his clothes and all that stuff, like we all do. But being ready to “GO” and being ready to inhale this kind of an experience has very little to do with toothbrushes, underpants and sanitizer.
Professor David Wong knows that. He was with the students in Japan. Read his account in the FACULTY VOICE and you’ll start to understand that a trip like this isn’t a vacation where you get some cool stamp for your passport and interesting food. He talks about the change that can only happen through challenge. He calls it an opportunity for growth in “perception, knowledge, competence and confidence.” Amen to that. Wong goes on to say, “Also, when overseas, students were less able to seek refuge in the familiar or in isolation.”
So it’s about getting out of your comfort zone. David Wong pushes the students to cross the lines of comfort, but not to make them miserable. He does it so that their comfort zones expand. Isaac gets it. He told me being in Japan was important to who he is as a person. He said he learned it’s not scary to be out on the road in some far-flung place if you’re open to the experience. And I know THAT’S what is the most important thing to pack—your wide-open eyes and brain and heart. You can always buy new underpants but if you’re closed up to the world then you might as well never leave home.
Professor Emeritus Linda Nelson helps one student take those first steps out the door each year, which you can read about in the FEATURE. I love how she says she learned to love “adventure” when she was young. Not “travel” or “foreign countries” or “seeing new places.” ADVENTURE. And she moves the kind of adventure that comes during a study abroad trip from dream to reality for MSU students. Awesome.
I’m still sitting here, still looking out at the Gulf, still tapping this out to you. I’m down here in Florida to speak at a conference for people who manage university travel. Actually, I already spoke and I think it went pretty well. They picked me because they wanted someone to give the traveler’s perspective. That I can do. And I did.
One of the things I talked to them about was fear. I know a lot of travelers are afraid to leave home. There’s a ton of reasons for it, but fear is fear and it can make any trip scary. I told them that, as travel managers, they need to help make their travelers brave. I think the way to do that is by giving them the courage that comes from knowledge. Information. Facts.
I have little kids and they get scared of things and I always tell them to be brave. I tell them that there is no courage without fear. I tell them that everyone gets scared and that they can’t control it, but that they can control how they act. I tell them that sometimes traveling scares me and that I am not fearless but I am brave. And I can be brave because I’ve done it a lot and I know things. I know things about the world and I know things about myself. And so I hit the frightening road a lot, courageously.
That’s something you can’t really learn without doing. You have to take a step toward what scares you before you can start to beat back the fear. And you can’t start to understand things that may scare you until you look them in the eye. And that’s what I see these study abroad kids doing. They are facing the unknown, bravely.
It took a lot of steps to get themselves to Japan just like it took them so many steps for them to get to MSU. They had to leave the safe harbor of their homes and face the world before they could understand that that world doesn’t have to seem so scary and that there are a lot of safe harbors out there. Japan provided safe harbor to these kids after it seemed so foreign at first.
Kirk Mason is a senior at MSU who took those first steps a few years ago and now craves adventure and travel. He’s also an accomplished videographer who traveled with the crew and me this past year as part of the president’s report. Even that wasn’t enough for him so he headed back out this summer on a Study Abroad trip to India. Check out his video about that trip in the STUDENT VIEW.
Tonight these students are in the safety of their residence hall rooms on campus, more secure slips for them, tucked inside a place that only a month ago seemed so vast and strange and new. And maybe scary.
I’m sitting in my air-conditioned room, safe. I’m looking out at these boats bobbing up and down and thinking about the students and thinking about myself. I realize that what is truly scary and makes you lonely is not having a place you’re tied to that matters. These students are such good travelers because they stepped away from places that feel like home. It’s very hard to travel well when you don’t have a place you want to go back to. Those places change for all of us as we move through our lives.
Your house is home until you go to college and then your residence hall is home, too. Pretty soon you have a few places that feel like home and you realize home is really a place that’s in your heart and it’s tied to people and that it can be different places. And that’s when you really start to understand the world. And while you don’t actually have to go anywhere to learn about the world and care for the world, there really just isn’t anything like actually going.
I’m packed and ready. Set. My “GO” button could get hit at any time. But traveling has shown me how much I love home. And because I love home and have home, travel is an essential thing in my life. Without home, travel would just be leaving. I guess that’s okay—it’s just so different.
One of my favorite parts of every trip is when I finally stop feeling like I’m leaving and begin feeling that I’m going. Going toward something not away from something. My next favorite feeling is when I leave a place and start going home. If I couldn’t go home, I’m not sure I would ever be able to leave. It makes me happy that these students are well on their way.
I hope that makes some sense.
Now, I need to go find dinner.