Traveling should permit the subtle properties of the soul to be discovered, and its foolishness and arrogance be cast out. Because one may scarcely understand what this is without traveling. – Umar Ibn Muhammad Suhrawardi
Whether you’re a Third Culture Kid or not, traveling domestically or internationally, mingling with other expats or amongst locals, going on cultural explorations or partying and shopping, travel brings out a lot in you.
Even if you’re not trying to integrate, there is a fundamental change that occurs when you are outside of your comfort zone, namely when how people in a place think compared to your default standard to compare it to. This standard can be the city you live in, the country at large, and the people you are socializing with mostly. Soon, doing things like pointing with your fingers changes to pointing with your entire hand, palm open and facing up; shoes must be removed when entering homes; and handshakes become wai instead.
These changes become adopted usually unconsciously after a few reminders when they turn into habit, to the point that when you leave and go back to your old reality and frame of reference, when you shake hands with a friend, they ask why you make a little bow as you shake hands; or notice that your speech pattern is a tad bit slower, more enunciated, and with less colloquialisms because you’ve gotten used to speaking to people whose English language skills aren’t native.
Parts of you as a person become more refined: where do Southern California, Manila, and Hong Kong begin with my behavior and mentality, and where do my own personal quirks begin? What is considered “propriety” when in the Roman Empire, vomiting at the table was considered polite? How is it that in the early 2000s in California, you weren’t allowed to smoke in bars or restaurants but people could be found constantly on their mobile phones, whereas in Amsterdam, people could smoke everywhere but were disallowed from using their mobile phones in bars?
There are parts of me as I travel between continents and cultures that remain the same and consistent, and that is where I begin to discover just who I am and what was adopted from the outside. This travel also extends to social groups, such as where some of my habits in martial arts classes were picked up, or what my default “go-to” activity is that I know I can find others who share those interests, whether it’s the gym, the pub, or a tea house.
Travel changes you in subtle ways, and travel helps you find who you are beyond the habits you pick up from travel between continents, cultures, and communities.
Harvey Danger’s Flagpole Sitta lyrics: “Been around the world and found that only stupid people are breeding.”