Today we get to know a bit more about our Culture Travel Tuesday contributor, Jessica Voigts. Regular readers of A Traveler’s Library are familiar with Jessie, since she has been an almost monthly contributor for many moons. She has been bringing us synopses of interviews with authors from her wonderfully useful website Wandering Educators. Don’t be fooled by the title–teachers are not the only ones who can benefit from the broad array of travel advice offered at W.E. Take a look at the many categories on her site and you’ll see what I mean. But Jessie’s first love is broadening the understanding between cultures. I am very happy she accepted the assignment of bringing to readers of A Traveler’s Library ideas for travel that deepens our understanding of different cultures. You saw an example last month when she wrote about a museum and battlefield in Scotland. Now for the inside scoop on how her interests developed, and how it affects her life today and other inside secrets of Jessie.
A Traveler’s Library: In your bio you mention that you majored in International Education. Can you explain that a bit? How is that different from majoring in Education?
Jessie Voigts: My PhD is in Comparative and International Development Education from the University of Minnesota. Although I had to take classes in education (US and global) and development, my main focus was on cross-cultural adaptation and study abroad. To me, international education is about being curious about the world; exploring and learning about other cultures and places.
ATL: Have you taught abroad, or taught foreign students in the United States?
JV: Yes to all of the above! I’ve taught courses on study abroad, courses on cultural adjustment for students getting ready to study abroad, courses on culture to both US and international students, worked with international students and scholars at MSU and UMN in a variety of ways, worked in Japan, and also was the Director for Michigan State University’s Summer London Study Abroad programs one year. What I love most about international education is that it is so joyful and life-changing to promote learning about the world.
ATL: How do you think having a background in International Education has affected the way you plan your travel?
JV: Yes. I don’t care for tours or quick travel. I like to go somewhere and really learn about a place – the people, culture, events, books, music, history, etc. I also love to do my research – digging deeply into the knowledge of a place beforehand allows us to dig deeply into a culture, when we get there.
ATL: You also mention your interest in traveling with disabilities. Do you want to expand on that?
JV: I have several disabilities, including a mobility disability. Because I can’t walk much, Where we travel is extremely important. Thus far, I’ve traveled to only first-world countries, where travel for people with disabilities is a bit easier. I also make sure we have a rental car, so that I can get to places. Once you’ve experienced travel with a mobility disability, it changes your worldview. Structural barriers are everywhere – you have to decide if you have the energy and will to cope and adapt. And, you have to be willing to let your family go into ancient castles and towers where you can’t climb the tiny winding stairs (hello, Ireland!), and find something else to do on flat ground. I have realized how lucky we are in the US, where the ADA mandates accessibility.
ATL: When you were a child did your family travel a lot?
JV: Yes! Our whole extended family is comprised of international travelers and scholars. At any given time, my parents, brother, aunts, uncles, or cousins are somewhere exploring the world. My parents placed great importance on travel, sending me to Japan for a summer when I was in middle school. We also traveled all over North America, and often to our cottage up in northern Michigan. I love that you can travel to both familiar and unfamiliar places, and experience them in such different ways.
ATL: When did you take your first trip out of the U.S. and where to?
JV: Well, we were always going to Canada, since Michigan is right next door..so probably as a tiny baby! I love those Canadian Butter Tarts! My first trip outside of North America was to Japan, when I was a young teenager. We had hosted a Japanese exchange student the summer before, and that summer, I went to stay with her family. It changed my life!
ATL: What is your best suggestion for overcoming culture shock, or the fear of getting outside the comfort zone of our own culture when we travel?
JV: My best advice is to roll with it, and balance spending time with people who understand what you’re going through (expats) and locals. If you spend too much time complaining to fellow expats, you won’t be able to progress past those difficult parts of cross-cultural adjustment. As well, if you only spend time with locals, you won’t be able to get those complaints out of your system. So – roll with the changes and the difficulty, have a great support system, and try to appreciate the culture where you are. Pretty soon, you’ll laugh at being annoyed at being crammed onto trains, and just figure out your own tricks to get in the door first. Eventually, with enough time and cultures under your belt, you’ll become a cultural marginal – able to fit into any culture around the world, and knowing that each culture is important and valid in its own right. I can’t say enough about cultural relativism!
As to the fear of getting outside your comfort zone – isn’t this WHY we travel? To challenge ourselves, to learn about ourselves and others, and to expand our world views. Yes, it is uncomfortable to look at the street food offered, and see bugs and things you would never have imagined eating. Try it – you might be pleasantly surprised – or have a great travel story to tell! It might be stressful, to be in a place where the worldview is SO different from yours – just remember that your worldview is not the only one. The best part of travel is exploring difference!
Thank you Jessie. And what an inspiring answer to the question of how we can travel outside our comfort zone. We’ll look forward to more inspiration each month as you bring us more motivations for travel.
Pictures used here were taken by Jessie Voigts, and are her property. Do not reuse without express permission. Thank you.
Would you like to share an experience you have had during travel that made you aware of the differences in worldview? Do you travel to get outside your comfort zone? Tell us about it in the comment section.