I often talk about how kids need to take risks in their learning, to get outside of their comfort zones to learn new perspectives and approaches. But how often do I get out of my comfort zone? Probably not enough. Luckily, my husband and I had the opportunity to take a vacation this summer, and the experience reminded me why travel is the ultimate shove out of your comfort zone!
We landed at the airport outside of Budapest, and first had to figure out how to get to our hotel. For a myriad of reasons, I hadn’t done my usual meticulous planning prior to the trip (and at the time, it felt so freeing!), and yet it nearly unraveled me when we discovered that the phone we had brought along (and paid for an international plan) wasn’t working. And do you KNOW how difficult the Hungarian language is?! My husband and I can speak and read Spanish, and can read French, Portuguese, and Italian passably enough for traveling. Hungarian? Nope. Exhausted from travel, and already tired of carrying my luggage on my back, I let my husband deal with figuring out travel from the airport to the hotel. And as he kept reminding me it would be, it was all ok! We made it!
Once we had made it over that first hurdle, we approached the language barrier more proactively: we studied the maps of the public transport systems so that we could navigate the city on our own; we made up mnemonic pronunciations of place names so my husband and I had a common vocabulary, and took constant advantage of the fact that most people spoke at least a little English. It was a really unsettling feeling, though, one I hadn’t experienced in a long time, to be completely cut off from literacy! It made me think about how students feel, when we ask them to leap into something wholly unfamiliar, and the supports we give them to access the task.
Each day posed new challenges and experiences that we approached with curiosity, excitement, and a bit (or sometimes a lot!) of fear! We spent a lot of time climbing, to get the best views–climbing bell towers, oil rigs, mountains. Each time, I clung to the railing, moved like a sloth, and let everyone pass me; and each time, the view at the top was so worth the fear. The feeling of accomplishment, after working through something challenging, was again a mirror of the classroom!
There was also a lot of connecting new information and experiences to what I already knew. I am embarrassed to admit how little I knew about the history of the places were were visiting. A little bit of reading brought back some cursory knowledge of the Holy Roman Empire, the Hapsburgs, the Ottoman Empire, and more recently, the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. But especially in Croatia, it was jarring to see Diocletian’s Palace (300 AD), the ruins of Salona (2nd century BCE-7th century AD), walled medieval cities, and buildings pocked with bullet holes from 1991-95. We took a guided kayaking trip out into the Adriatic, and as we looked back at the city of Dubrovnik, our guide outlined for us the hill that was held by the defenders of Dubrovnik, and the hill that was taken by the Yugoslav People’s Army during the siege of the city. He shared his memories of being a 9-year old during the siege; he remembered school being closed, spending time with all of his friends in the basement, and not being able to find chocolate or bananas in the markets (there is a very moving photography exhibit in the Fort Imperial, covering the war years; highly recommended if you plan to visit Croatia). Seeing all of this history in context was breathtaking.
After two weeks of traveling, navigating new cities, towns, languages, and experiences, we were exhilarated, exhausted, and ready to make our way back to our comfort zone. When we landed back in Boston, we immediately heard of the attack in Nice, and then of a coup in Turkey. It was a reminder of how lucky we are to live in a safe place, to have all of our basic needs met; we are so grateful to have the opportunities to live, work, and travel as we do. It also reminded me how important the work of teaching and learning is: in the classroom, teaching children history, geography, kindness, and collaboration. And then the next step–getting out of your comfort zone, traveling. To see how big the human experience really is, and how connected we are (or need to be). To see the earth and environment from many angles, to explore the challenges facing different parts of the world, to interact with the ordinary people who have lived through extraordinary circumstances.
What challenges have pulled you out of your comfort zone? What has been an amazing travel experience for you? Please share!