Could Travelling Abroad Make a Better World?

A Commentary on the benefits of traveling

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Being in Europe was wonderful, not only because of its beauty, welcoming people, and its rich history, but because for one entire month my wife and I had a reprieve from hearing about American politics. Our Canadian news media reports constantly on American politics as well as our own. Now that we are back in Canada, we are once again barraged by the political troubles, attacks on allies, outrageous tweets and bizarre behavior of the current resident of the White House. Before leaving for Europe, Trump after the G7 meeting attacked our Prime Minister and country, and even after a month away, he continues to attack Canada. At first, I will admit, I watched the news because I was curious as to what inappropriate tweet Trump would send out that day or to see what unpresidental behavior he exhibited. Now, like most Canadians I’ve talked to, I’m just tired of hearing about Trump and American politics.

Because of Trump, Canadians are more and more developing a revulsion for Americans. Most people I’ve talked to since returning from Europe are expressing resentment towards Americans. I must admit, I was one of them. I, like most Canadians, was beginning to believe that American’s were a racist, self-centred, hostile people. Perhaps such American stereotypes (according to Wikipedia) as lack of intelligence, lack of cultural awareness, being racist and arrogant are true.

The Star, a newspaper from Toronto, reported in June,

“A deep national revulsion [in Canada] toward President Donald Trump has sent Canadians’ opinions of the United States plummeting to a level of antipathy never before seen in 35 years…A major Pew Research survey…found that just 43 per cent of Canadians hold a favourable view of the U.S…

That is a steep decline since…the final year of Democrat Barack Obama’s presidency, when Pew found 65 per cent of Canadians favourably disposed to the U.S. And it is lower than even the low point of the unpopular presidency of Republican George W. Bush, when 55 per cent of Canadians were favourable.”

It appears Canadians are developing a distaste for Americans. I was one of them until my European trip. Why would going to Europe change that, you ask? While we were in Ireland, we met some wonderful Americans.

Giant’s Causeway, N. Ireland

While in Ireland, besides spending time with our daughter, we took an eleven-day tour of the country. On that tour with us were three American couples. One couple was from Philadelphia, one from New Jersey and another couple from North Carolina. The first words out of the wonderful man from Philadelphia was, “we are not discussing American politics.” That won us over. During the entire 11 days, little to no discussion was had about Trump and his politics. My wife and I were especially drawn to the couple from Philadelphia as they were so sweet and personable, and the fact that they were both almost 80 “blew our minds.” They did not look or act that age. The other two couples were equally as friendly and in fact, the lady from New Jersey purposely kept her eye out for gluten free food once she discovered I was celiac. Her husband even bought me an Irish whiskey taste experience. Our time with our six American friends was wonderful, and it confirmed for me that not all Americans are racist, self-absorbed or hostile.

We often ran into Americans travelling in Ireland. One evening while staying in an Irish town, we met a couple from the U.S. in a whiskey bar. I don’t recall which state they were from. They were very friendly and we ended up talking to them for a long time. Once again, Trump did not enter the conversation. It was almost as if Americans were too embarrassed to talk about their president.

On another occasion, while exiting the place where we had dinner, a couple asked us if the food in the establishment was good. During our discussion, like we do whenever we travel abroad, we asked them where they were from. They told us they were from New York. Like all the other Americans we encountered, we found them pleasant and easy to talk to.

While taking a bus tour out of Dublin, I sat beside a fellow from Florida. We struck up a conversation and he told me he was visiting Ireland because his ancestors were from there.  As the day progressed, he ended up having lunch with us. The only thing political that he mentioned was that their country’s health care system was a mess. I couldn’t refute what he had said since the U. S. is one of the only developed countries in the world that doesn’t offer universal health care to its citizens.

Now I had to wonder why the Americans we met were so friendly and happy.  None that we met seemed racist or hostile, or self-absorbed or arrogant for that matter. I pondered this for a while and the only logical conclusion I can entertain is that the Americans we were encountering in Europe are travellers who have experienced other cultures and hence are not as racist or self-absorbed or arrogant since they have seen how other people in other parts of the world live. I’ve always believed that people who travel and experience other cultures are much more open minded and tolerant. People who only know their own “little world” and who have never experienced another culture are narrow minded, intolerant and tend to stereotype races in my experience.  I’ve met some here in Canada.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Ironically, while my wife, daughter and I were in Edinburgh, Scotland, while having a cappuccino in a coffee shop waiting for my daughter and wife to return, I met two lovely American ladies. In conversation, I learned they were mother and daughter from South Carolina—assuming my memory is correct. The mother of the pair was a travel agent who was with a group in Europe. We both discussed how much we loved Ireland and Scotland. Although we didn’t talk politics, I did mention that I believed the world would be a better place if more people travelled and experienced other cultures. She immediately got excited and said, “that is how I feel.” She agreed too many people in the U.S. are naïve about other cultures.

The article titled, Off The Grid: Why Americans Don’t Travel Abroad, supports my thinking. This article says, there is a popular belief in the United States that Americans are the second most well-traveled people after Finns. However, the article disproves that belief as it says,

“…only 36 percent of Americans hold a valid passport, according to the State Department, compared to 60 percent of passport-holding Canadians and 75 percent for Brits and Aussies. That means almost 70 percent of us [Americans] are unqualified for international travel. And in actuality, only one in five Americans travels abroad with regularity, according to a recent survey.”

It all makes sense to me now. The Americans we met are worldly and consequently tolerant and non-racist, unlike those who have never left their country. Of the three couples we toured with, all have travelled abroad—obviously, they were in Ireland with us—and all of them had been to Canada. One of the couples even lived and worked in Canada for six years.

Ideas for Leaders, is a website that analyzes research says, travelling abroad builds trust and tolerance. It goes on to say,

“The idea that travel can be important for personal development and ‘growth’ is well established. Spending time overseas can ‘broaden the mind’ — not only by increasing knowledge but also by reducing xenophobia [racism]. The maximum benefits, however, might depend on breadth as well as depth of experience. Recent empirical research finds a causal link between the ability to trust and accept others and exposure to a diverse range of ‘out groups’.”

Perhaps the typical American stereotypes like lacking cultural awareness, being racist [xenophobic] and having arrogance exist because they are true. The statistic that only 36% of Americans have passports could explain this. Those 36% likely are the friendly, open-minded Americans we encountered. The other 64% are the xenophobic, self-absorbed, hostile Americans because of their ignorance of other cultures. Now, I am not naïve enough to believe that every single person in the 64% are this way, but I would be willing to bet that the majority are.

Maybe, just maybe, the U.S. would be a better place and would not have elected a president who exhibits xenophobic tendencies, is self-absorbed, and hostile—certainly is towards America’s allies—had more Americans held passports and travelled aboard, experiencing new cultures and learning that there is so much more to the world than just America.

I will say that my numerous encounters with Americans in Europe has confirmed for me that not all Americans are stereotypical. Thank God for that.