Seeking Out Positive and Authentic Experiences

Posted January 16, 2017 Students-interacting-with-the-local-community

Within the youth travel industry our goal, I believe, is to offer young people positive, authentic, fun and life-enhancing experiences. By achieving this we can encourage international communication, understanding and perspective among students. With nationalism and partisanship on the rise this has surely never been more important.

Barack Obama spoke very cogently and eloquently in his farewell speech about the habit of retreating into our own comfort zones with people who look like us and think like us, without challenging the assumptions on the feeds we choose to follow on social media. You can see Obama sum up the world’s challenges and issues in 2 minutes here. This retreating trend is not a progressive mindset and is an attitude our industry addresses and can overcome. Young people can explore the world from their screens – influenced by a largely negative, self interested media - but so many do not get an authentic experience of the world’s people, her diversity, nature, inequality and opportunity. Cultural interaction is an incredibly powerful tool in enabling young people to have positive, authentic experiences and thereby engaging them in positive global citizenship.

I remember when I was leading a school expedition in Uganda a few years back, we were working on a community project in the remote Rwenzori Mountains and a girl in the group asked a local girl, of a similar age, how she got to school every day:

'I walk.'

How long does it take you?

'2 Hours. Each way.'

And she did it barefoot.

The girl in my group was astonished. Wow, she said to me, I thought my 20-minute bus ride was a hassle and I can’t believe she wants to go to school that much! There and then, with that simple exchange, I could see her gaining perspective of her own life and admiration for this girl, her peer from a very different background. A couple of weeks later, on the last day of the trip we did a review session of highlights and the girl mentioned this encounter and said she would resolve to be ‘more appreciative, positive and work harder at school’.

On one of our recent sports tours to Sri Lanka, some of the girls reflected on their experiences: ‘It was fascinating to see how their coaches talked and interacted with the girls and although these girls lived so far away from us, there were still many similarities between us.’

‘Going on the tour has not only inspired us all, but we have also created international lifelong friendships and discovered new cultures. We have learnt so many new things that we will take away and apply to our lives.’

I can also remember an inner city school from London on an Outward Bound weekend trip, where the girls – aged 14/15 were awestruck by the number of stars and green fields they saw. They had never seen so many before and had no idea there was so much countryside in Britain.

Our challenge is to make these experiential experiences as accessible as possible to everyone, which can be problematic. We must persist though as the evidence for the long-term benefits of cultural interaction and experiential learning are compelling…

A UNESCO report on Investing in Cultural Diversity a few a years ago comments that ‘accelerating globalization processes place a premium on intercultural competencies, which enable us to manage cultural diversity more effectively and monitor cultural change. Without such competencies, misunderstandings rooted in identity issues are liable to multiply’. The report goes on to say that in the field of education, ‘we must seek to strike a balance between the requirements of education for all and the integration of cultural diversity in educational strategies…. More generally, there is a need to promote practices involving out-of-school learning’.

A leading psychology lecturer, Dr Steve Taylor, believes that man is not naturally drawn to conflict (for several thousand years there were no wars), but that when a society, community or organisation becomes very inward looking then partisanship gains momentum and thrives. On the other hand, people who interact with a diverse range of people are far less likely to be suspicious of perceived differences and more likely to be tolerant and empathetic.

If people believe the world can be better and are empowered to feel that they are able to make a difference, then they may engage in action. Hopefully we can all assist students in becoming active global citizens and to develop a generation of leaders who are focused on ethical and sustainable living by offering positive, authentic and life-enhancing experiences.

Written by Tim Douglas
School Tours Manager

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