“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things.” – Henry Miller
It’s been about a year since I returned to the U.S. from teaching abroad in France. This is noteworthy to mention because I originally started this blog to write about my experiences teaching in Montargis and traveling throughout Europe. I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone who followed along on my blog. I hope you got as much enjoyment from reading my short stories as I did from writing them.
When I reflect on the fact that I’ve been back in the D.C. area for almost a year now, it feels weird. Part of my identity is being a traveler, specifically the type of traveler who tries to integrate into the culture and experience it in as genuinely a way as possible.
Many travelers can experience this phenomena: adjusting back to a “real life” that doesn’t compare to the excitement and stimulation that was constantly a part of life abroad. I miss the feeling of learning something new every day the most. A task as simple as buying produce at the grocery store or asking for directions can turn into a mini-adventure in a foreign country, which leads me to the topic of this post. We can still learn new things in our native countries and hometowns, and we can continue to view the world through the eyes of a traveler. It just takes a little more work than it did when you were deep in culture shock abroad. It requires effort to adopt the mindset of a traveler again and remove yourself from “the daily grind.”
Living in a small and peculiar town, with plenty of quirky characters around, as well as an abundance of free time during the week made writing easy. Everything was new, and my observations about Montargis, its inhabitants and the people I met in hostels and on city tours felt fresh and sharp. It was the perfect exercise for learning how to observe, and thus learning to write. I was using my heightened senses and the feeling of culture shock to become a better storyteller.
As a writer, (or other type of creative) or just as a human-being seeking some inspiration, the mindset of a traveler is a vital tool. When we travel, we observe, we take in, we soak up our environment like a sponge. Most importantly, we learn to know and appreciate a place for what it is, rather than what we’ve read or heard about it or imagined that place to be. It takes all our senses, every ounce of our powers of observation to really experience that place. We often feel overwhelmed, but in a good way. Maybe that’s why they call it culture shock.
It might take more concentrated effort to wear your “traveler’s eyes” while commuting to work, standing in line at Starbucks, or during other “boring” rituals of the day, but if you make a point to really be present and observe your surroundings, the things you notice can lead to fantastic inspiration.
What interesting or unusual things have you noticed when you stopped to observe your surroundings?