Saturday, April 23, 2016

Traveler: Can Travel Make Us Empathetic? #AtoZChallenge Letter T

During April I'm participating in the A to Z blogging challenge.
Each day, sans Sunday, offers an opportunity to write about a
letter of the alphabet with the goal of writing 26 posts.
April is also National Poetry Month.

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away. --Emily Dickinson

I have the above lines from Emily Dickinson on a bulletin board in my classroom.

I love to travel.

Through reading books as a child, I imagined myself living in exotic places and having relationships with characters. Through books we imagine ourselves living as others live. We imagine ourselves having the same struggles characters have.

Canadian novelist Yann Martel explains the power of literature to develop empathy: 

If literature does one thing, it makes you more empathetic by making you live others' lives and feel the pain of others. Ideologues don't feel the pain of others because they haven't imaginatively got under their skin.

When I wrote my MA thesis, I focused on what Yann Martel calls "the empathetic imagination." Empathy, not sympathy, is something we sorely need in our world. At the national level we see politicians denigrating women, minorities, immigrants, the disabled, etc. This week we've seen a backlash agains Target's decision to make their stores' restrooms inclusive. We should demand that all elected officials and all businesses demonstrate empathy for all members of society, from the least of us to the greatest. We should insist they develop an empathetic imagination.

Martel writes that "when your own life is threatened, your sense of empathy is blunted by a terrible, selfish, hunger for survival."

Locally, we have seen a rash of violence against international students who traveled to the US to attend school at Idaho State University. Many have had their homes here burglarized; the thieves have taken electronics, text books and school projects, and valuable documents, such as passports. International students have been physically attacked. Their vehicles have been vandalized.

No human deserves the egregious treatment international students have suffered. Yet I sense only sadness and not hostility from the international students I teach. One student told me he was interviewed by the NYT for an article the paper published about the international students' experiences. My student defended Pocatello and ISU, but the reporter did not use his story as it did not fit her agenda. Perhaps had the reporter had more empathy, she would have penned a more balanced account.

Knowing first-hand the academic struggles of some international students, particularly in their knowledge of English and the rules of standard usage, I understand and share the frustrations of the campus community. I also know that some of our international students came here expecting small-town America to function like a big city. I hold the governments of international students who are unprepared academically responsible for their role in the students' struggles.

When I traveled to Europe last year, our EF guide Nikki spoke to us about being travelers rather than tourists. A traveler experiences a place as though she is a native. Travelers embrace the diverse culture, lifestyle, food, etc. while tourists remain detached from a place and often expect a local to adapt to the tourist's language and food expectations. Travelers get off the beaten path. Tourists cling to the touristy areas. 

A couple of days ago I wrote about the trip I'll be taking to Europe's Mediterranean Coast during spring break 2017. Since writing that post, I've created an Animoto video to show students the places we'll travel. As I share this planned adventure with students, I want them to embrace the traveler ideal so they can become more empathetic citizens of the world. 

There is No Frigate Like a Book by Emily Dickinson

There is no Frigate like a Book 
To take us Lands away 
Nor any Coursers like a Page 
Of prancing Poetry – 
This Traverse may the poorest take 
Without oppress of Toll – 
How frugal is the Chariot 
That bears the Human Soul –

1 comment:

  1. I'm afraid I do most of my traveling in books now, unless I can drive. I don't often leave my local area because my husband and I aren't as healthy as we used to be when we were in our sixties. One can still be empathetic toward those one meets in books, though.

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