Written by Helene Szabados
When you travel…enter every new encounter with gratitude for another opportunity to learn and to listen and be the best travel ambassador on earth.” -Sami Sunchild
There was a time, not so long ago, that international travel was seen as a luxurious experience that only the privileged appreciated. What can be said about travel in 2017? Peaceful World Foundation hosted another fruitful conversation around the topic:
What actions can I take when I travel to advance peace in the world?
After his adventures teaching mindfulness workshops in China, Indonesia, and India, Peaceful World Foundation was delighted to have Janardhan Chodagam, Chairman of the annual Peace in the Park Festival and a 2017 grantee, co-facilitate our conversation about mindful travel. We also had an abundance of travelers from around the Tides’ Non-Profit Sector join us from organizations such as, Geo Expeditions, Pachamama Alliance and ArtSeed.
We began our conversation with an original icebreaker created by Sami Sunchild herself, the founder of Peaceful World Foundation. The icebreaking question is as follows:
What nature do you see when you look out of the window in your home?
We had a variety of answers to this question because we are blessed to have such a wide array of nature in the SF Bay Area. Throughout the history of Peaceful World Conversations, this icebreaker was used to remind tourists and travelers that we are all fortunate enough to have a home to go back to. Peaceful World Foundation related this question to the many refugees who have lost their homes through violence and natural disasters. We held a moment of love for all the refugees.
Sami Sunchild was an avid traveler and throughout her many years of travel, she wrote to her parents almost every day. After her passing in 2013, Peaceful World Foundation adopted the responsibility of organizing Sami’s archives. As program coordinator, I read through decades of letters between Sami and her family. With each letter we gained insight into what life was like in America through the perspective of an artist, activist and traveler.
We brought some of Sami’s original letters and postcards, from several of the biggest trips of her life, to the conversation table. We passed these artifacts around the table so our patrons could experience reading and holding a piece of history.
Janardhan (Jay) started the conversation around our main topic with his experience teaching and learning in India and Asia. “It is a different kind of trip when you associate and live as the locals do”, he said. The most important equities of investment in Jay’s perspective is listening and recognition. He described seeing someone for their soul as opposed to their wealth, possessions or class. Jay recited a quote from Dr. Len Traubman, founder of Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group; a non-violent resolution group established in 1992 in San Mateo, CA. The quote was as follows:
The enemy only exists until you have heard their story.” – Dr. Len Traubman
Heidi, Program Director at Peaceful World Foundation, shared her story of joining Peace Corps and living in Papua New Guinea for most of her young adult life and the first couple of years as a mother. When she first arrived to Papua New Guinea in 2000, she found herself questioning how to work in the village with no running water or electricity. After recognizing her western tendency of rushing, an elder in the village Papa Cucurai, told her, “I need to slow you down.” He would play his instruments to her around a small fire and taught Heidi the art of listening and the practice of slowing down.
As a table, we discussed how modern travel does not encourage slowing down or silence. When the plane lands, we arrive into a new region exuding American tendencies. We must take our time with travel because it is a bountiful educational resource. A participant related to this with the modern social concept of F.O.M.O., an acronym for Fear Of Missing Out. She said she is the speediest American she knows; always trying to live her life in one day because of her excitement. This conversation got her reflecting on how she was going to orchestrate a more mindful experience on her upcoming trip to Mexico.
A member from Artseed shared an honest perspective of travel, describing his experience hiking for hours to get to a beautiful view just to take one picture and leave shortly after. He explained that this was not the best way to travel, as you are not being enriched with the customs and traditions of the land. He advised travelers to do some research about the land they are visiting before venturing through it.
I shared my story growing up as a dual citizen. Having moved to Brooklyn as a child from France, I didn’t know what was expected of me as a “foreigner” in America. My mother advised me to take this opportunity to represent the aspects of my culture that I liked. “Be a representative for your culture, show these Americans why you love being French.” When I was a teenager, my parents sent me back to France and this time my experience was flipped; I was now the American in France. Recalling my mother’s advice, I embraced and embodied the qualities of America that I loved.
Jay chimed in with his observations from his recent travels. “This world is becoming very flat very quickly”, explaining that every child around the world wants the same electronics with the same applications and we are forgetting what is special and unique about our cultures. When one travels it is important to use encouragement and curiosity to show people the worth of their culture.
A participant questioned how people in the past traveled without google translate, an application that can give you the translation for many of the languages used around the world today. A member of Geo Expeditions, a mindful travel company, responded to this question of communication, “We have to trust. We create peace by putting trust into someone; to put strength in your connection.” She also spoke about a process of reflection when one returns from a trip because it is important to remember the gems you received on your journey.
This lead another participant into a vibrant story of the experience she had traveling as a teenager in India. She was separated from her travel group and found herself in the violent conflicting environment of Cashmere. She took shelter with a local family but soon fell ill and with scarce medical resources ended up fighting for her life in a local hospital. She described a moment when the doctor hooked her up to an IV and said, “The rest is up to God.”
In this moment she went within herself and came to the profound realization that her life up to this point had been a beautiful journey and that she still wanted to live. “All my suffering is a blessing”, she said “…at that moment I truly stepped into my womanhood.” This gem of an experience would not have been possible for her if she had not trusted the locals and surrendered to her journey.
Our conversation on mindful travel was inspiring and one that Sami would have been proud to be a part of. Through the perspective of these experienced travelers we were able to start answering this question of mindful travel. Within our conversation we found some actions you can take to create peace along your travels:
- Preparing yourself with information and research about your destination
- Slowing down your pace
- Authentically listening
- Living and relating to the locals of that area
- Being a positive representative of your own culture
- Encouraging interest in a different culture
- Trusting and surrendering to your journey