Travel through their eyes

I may claim to be a know-it-all, or a KIA as my brother has dubbed it, but I certainly don't know everything. You don't know everything either. Even the smartest person on this planet doesn't know everything. It would be nice to know everything, and when travel is so easily accessible, we can get closer to learning more. The education is always the best part.

I had to write several persuasive essays over the years of my schooling, one of which was to convince my college to let me study abroad. Ah, the classic "what is this thing's importance to YOU" essay question. Even though I have no idea where the print or digital copy of that essay is, I do remember one of my key points: to understand something, you must view it and experience it first-hand. For politics, for religion, for all the big topics of the world, you must first understand where the other side is coming from. In an era where speed and surface themes are valued for convenience, it's often hard to access the deeper meanings in things.

Let me provide some specifics. As most of you know, I studied abroad in Spain for two separate semesters in college, as well as lived/worked there for an additional 8 months. In high school and college I had classes about history and about the Spanish language, but neither of these things were truly absorbed until I studied abroad, until I lived and breathed the country surrounding me.

Think of this as a lost chapter of an unpublished book titled Freakonomics: Spain Edition. Let's look at two things: babies and Mad Men. When I was studying abroad in 2009 and 2010, there were tons of babies. Like walking through Wicker Park on a Sunday afternoon, there were strollers everywhere, with young early-30-something parents pushing them. It was, perhaps, a baby BOOM if you will. Reasoning? Francisco Franco was the dictator in Spain from 1936-1975. In a nutshell, he was repressive, and when he died, the people rejoiced. People who previously didn't want to bring children into the world now did. There was finally new hope. Thus, a baby boom began in the late 1970s. And those people are now getting married and having kids...thus we find ourselves in a second baby boom.

As for the Mad Men part, I was reminded several times from my various host families how "futuristic" the show was. You know how in "our" (American) 60's, we had TVs and electric stoves and refrigerators? And during that decade we were all about bringing to light the injustices of segregation and misogyny? Well, imagine a country that was in an economic and cultural standstill for the entire duration of the Franco regime. You would then find out that women couldn't have their own bank account (without a male co-signer) until the late 1970s. You would also find out that TVs, electronics, refrigerators and other modern luxuries we just that--luxuries. What we (Americans) had in our homes in that era were few and far between back in Spain. This also explains why many apartment buildings there don't have heat (space heaters/AC units are all the rage), even if they are less than 50 years old.

Two arbitrary things, yes, but two things I learned while traveling. Something I love about traveling is really digging deep and finding out more about the culture. I'd hate to travel to a country where I don't know any words in the local language (more on that later)...and I never have. I love immersing myself. I look through the news headlines here in the US and we're always focused on international news, but it's hard to strip away our outsider view of the issues. We come with our own preconceived notions, our own "baggage." But that's no way to understand a country, a culture, or a person. You have to see it through their eyes.