Travel and international understanding
Does travel help to promote understanding and communication between countries?
Most people would agree that travel broadens the mind. Surely, visiting new places and meeting new people helps us to understand how others live? However, the history of travel has taught us that many misunderstandings and tragedies can occur when different societies meet. In this essay, I will discuss whether travel contributes to mutual respect and understanding.
The issue is probably not travel itself, but the purpose of travel. There are many motivations for travel. It can be to learn, as in a religious pilgrimage, a personal journey, or an expedition. Millions of Muslims meet on Haj each year, and are reminded of the scale and diversity of the faith. Exploration of remote jungles or islands has given us an appreciation of cultures very different from ours. Even the modern traveler, flying in hours from China to Australia or from France to Thailand, glimpses different ways of life and different histories.
However, travel is not always so innocent. Trade, for example, can begin as an equal exchange of crafts or commodities between small groups of traders, but it can also become the basis for massive exploitation, colonization or even extermination. If one group believes its cultural values, religion, or society are superior to the other’s, then friction or resentment can grow into conflict. And too often, travel is undertaken with no desire to meet or learn from the host country’s people: it is simply a change of scene or temperature. Such travel actually sets out to minimize all contact with the culture of the host country and instead surrounds itself with the food, drink and entertainment of its own.
In conclusion, while it might seem that travel can contribute to understanding, it depends on the intention of the traveler and the attitude of the host. Just because travel is easier than ever before does not mean we should bring our prejudices with us on the plane.
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