It has been said a thousand times.
Travel has the power to connect people.
When you are outside your element, distant from the place you call home, you have the opportunity to interact with all sorts of interesting people. Their stories, way of living and wisdom stun you. The more encounters, the more you learn about life, yourself and humankind in general.
In some sense, we are not that different from those living on the other side of the globe. This is a lesson travelers hold dear to their hearts, that change the way they conduct themselves towards others.
And this is all touching, emotive and soul changing.
But, what happens when you return home? Is there a way to use the connecting power of travel when surrounded by people living in your own metropolitan area, exposed to the same stressors and with a similar way of living?
Some months ago, my husband started a new job. You have an idea of how the process works. During the first couple of days, you are introduced to your team and to other groups that work in conjunction with your functional area.
After saying his name, my husband was bombarded mostly with one very important question, “Where are you from?”
“I’m from El Salvador,” he answered. Others Salvadorans were delighted by the answer. On the contrary, people from Mexico and other Central American countries cringed at the response. Some even rolled their eyes (people from the same place tend to stick together).
But my husband knew what to do.
He asked the same question.
Some people answered with country names.
“Mexico? I have been to Cancun and Mexico City. Men, I love those cities.” Or, “I used to work transporting trucks from the Caribbean side of Guatemala to San Salvador. I have so many stories from those days.”
Others were more specific and referred to states or areas of a country.
“My wife and I visited Oaxaca last year. We strolled thru the capital, visited Monte Alban and ate at the markets.”
That strategy changed the dynamics. He was able to break the barriers and make a connection using his travel experience.
When his coworkers heard his responses, they smiled, became talkative and where more inclined to help my husband out. Some wanted to know more about the places in their countries my husband had visited. Turns out, they have never been to those places.
Human beings are always looking to connect to others. The connection can be deep or casual. The important thing is that it can be easier to set up a strong base to build upon when we can find one of those things that are important to others. Some connect over profession, sports, hobbies, having children about the same age, etc.
Being able to connect on the basis of the place of origin can be a killer (in a good sense). People usually have a strong tie to the place where they grew up or lived for a long time.
I consider myself an ambassador of the countries I have visited. I take very seriously the job of spreading the word about the beautiful places I have visited during my travels. I also try to disperse the rumors the media want people to believe.
That is why I feel a different type of joy when I can share with others how much I enjoyed their country.
Literally, I can see how eyes widen and jaws drop when I talk about people’s countries. And believe me, I have been very well received in some circles and even given preferential treatment by some families.
Some do not understand why a Puerto Rican wants to visit El Salvador or Honduras.
Other have printed and framed pictures I have sent them.
A lady from Puebla was surprised we didn’t get sick after telling her everything we ate in her city.
The Thai cooks in a nearby restaurant claim we don’t stop by very often. They have offered their houses for the next time we visit Thailand.
And just this week we met a sushi chef from Oaxaca (yes that can happen in Los Angeles). He said we made his night while we went thru some of the best known places on the state. He told us to come back anytime.
Because of all the previous, I can say travel has the power to connect even when you are not on the road. It can help you to gain or deepen more relationships. It can give you that extra push needed to catch somebody’s attention. It can help you penetrate tight circles.
I am sure I have not mentioned all the ways travel can help you to relate to others but I am sure a lot of interesting situations can arise.
For now, I will keep interrogating people about their countries of origin. Who knows what interesting adventures can arise from a casual conversation.
How has travel helped you to connect when you are home?