Reposted from Travel-Alchemy
Did you know that every time you step out your door, you have an opportunity to make change in the world?
When we venture out into the wider world, we can become agents of social and cultural change, transforming the world around us, and within us.
Travel affords us an opportunity to become the kind of person we wish to be, and a chance to “be the change” that we all know is possible.
This article is a preview to a more comprehensive guide which will be published in an exciting upcoming project, Reinhabiting the Village! Check it out!
First, what is a “change agent?” A change agent is someone who conceives of themselves as someone who can make a positive difference in the world, no matter how big, or small, and consciously takes this into account in every interaction.
To be a change agent is to be an empowered, conscious, and caring human being.
Personal Connections Build Bridges: Travelers as Non-institutional Pathways for Relating
My first time abroad, I found myself living in an Australian Aboriginal community in the far reaches of the Northern Territory. I learned many things, but was awestruck by the difficulties of Aboriginal life. Like many indigenous peoples throughout the world, Aboriginal Australians are extremely marginalized, and face intense problems such as alcoholism, domestic/child abuse, and extremely deteriorating levels of health.
To put it lightly, I was living with a people who’s way of life had been all but exterminated.
How could I, a 20 year-old anthropology student from the US, have any effect on such widespread suffering? The question plagued me for weeks. Yet every time I would walk in the community, I would be greeted by someone with a genuine desire to know me.
I only had to reflect this desire to feel a connection with these people- a connection that was not defined by their current issues. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t resolve the immense problems facing them. What mattered was that I could make a genuine relationship with another human being.
Through personal, one-on-one connections, we can build bridges that otherwise would not exist. Throughout my travels, I have met and befriended people from Russia, Iran, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Egypt, and Palestine. Building friendships and meeting people of nationalities which are often demonized by Western media is a potent way to become a change agent. Our personal interactions and relationships can often become avenues for dialog, and even peace.
Travelers, in effect, can become non-institutional pathways for relating. Beyond the confines of nationality, religion, government, or social status, travelers have a rare opportunity to meet each other, and the people they encounter, as equals.
Be a Traveler, not a Tourist: Our Responsibility to Authentically Relate
In order to “be the change,” there is a level of personal responsibility and integrity that is required of us.
I call this being a traveler, not a tourist. This simple distinction implies a responsibility to relate to others, and the world around us, in an authentic, and decidedly non-touristic way.
But let’s be honest. You’re traveling through a foreign country, you’re staying in hostels with other foreigners, you’re buying things, you’re maybe even taking a guided tour or two. From the looks of it, you might be a tourist…
Yet by shifting only a few simple ways you interact and view the world around you, you can easily transform yourself from tourist, to traveler.
For example, its common that tourists don’t learn the language of a place they visit.
In Australia, I visited the desert town of Alice Springs, a hot-spot for tourists seeking to view (or unfortunately, climb,) Uluru, or Ayer’s Rock. Needless the say, the local Aboriginal people were not enthused.
Yet after learning only a few words of the local language, the people completely shifted their stance towards me. I experienced eye contact, simple conversation, and acknowledgment in a town famous for its troubled indigenous population.
Traveling in the Middle East also revealed to me the profound effect that language can have on your experience.
Granted, most Westerners are terrified of traveling through Arab countries on their own, and rightfully so. The foreign policy of Western nations has not been conducive for friendship between these two cultures, to say the least.
Yet learning a few simple phrases in Arabic, specifically phrases that convey a certain cultural respect and understanding (Salam Aulekom,) transformed potentially difficult interactions into ones that left me feeling welcomed and safe.
In learning just a few simple words, I had become something else than a tourist. I had become, ever so slightly, more connected. I had become, no matter how small, an agent of change.
Change agents take the time to learn a few simple phrases (and how to pronounce them,) and perhaps in time, more of the languages.
Another example is that tourists often book private tours through a country, effectively building a wall between themselves and the local people. Traveling through East Africa overland , I took countless buses and kombi vans- local modes of transportation that most safari-seeking tourists would never set foot in.
The result was that people engaged me with a level of respect that, in a few occasions, literally saved my life.
While there is nothing wrong with safari tours or private transport, it severely limits the amount of interaction one would have with the people who’s country you are visiting.
Being a traveler, not a tourist, means to simply have a level of awareness that is carried with us throughout our travels, and ideally into our lives at home. When we see a pattern or trend with negative consequences, we have the power to change it through our actions and choices. In doing so, the world around us will also change.
Change Yourself, Change the World
Its no secret that travel is a fast-track to personal-growth and empowerment. However, the most effective and lasting way that travelers can become change agents is to take seriously the transformations occurring in themselves as they make their way through the world.
Eventually, all travelers must return home. It’s an essential part of the mythicHero’s Journey, and the final stage of all traditional rites of passage.
Integration, and return, provides us with an opportunity to share what we have learned with our family and friends, and often a chance to see how we have changed.
Without this final stage, the profound levels of transformation that travel can produce can be lost. Without ourselves having been deeply effected and changed, travel can easily become just another route to consumerism and commodification, further separating ourselves from the world and people around us.
This doesn’t mean that we have to go sit in an ashram for 3 years, live in a mud hut, or solve world hunger. Transformation and change is not an achievement, or a check off the list. It’s a side effect of relating to the world in a sincere and authentic way, and opening ourselves to new experiences.
Change is continual, and transformation is permanent.
I travel because I believe it helps me become a more aware, compassionate, and empowered person. I believe that through authentically relating to people vastly different than ourselves, people we would have never encountered at home, we can become agents of change in the world around us.