Even as we began our pre-travel intensive studies, I recall realising how little I knew about Southeast Asia before that. I was context-less. It was very different going on the Europe travel semester. Even if there was a certain teaching that you hadn’t heard before, you’d have some background knowledge of at least something that would help you make sense of it. This was not necessarily so, at least for me, with Southeast Asia. (Please forgive me, those of you who never wanted to hear another Europe-Asia comparison ever again.)
This helps me to recognise our tendency to get caught up in our own little worlds sometimes. There’s a sense in which I can understand it. I think it’s a human tendency to focus on that which most greatly affects us. We would become overloaded if we didn’t.
Still, there’s something about stepping outside of our own immediate worlds (whether mentally or literally) that’s very good for us. Individually, it allows us to open our minds. Corporately, it has the potential to help humanity reconcile differences by building understanding.
I’m grateful to have been taken out of the Western hemisphere for a time. I brought many of my Western ideologies with me, but they were constantly ground down, questioned, destabilized. Uncomfortable? Often, yes. But also much-needed.
(I should note that there were many in our group who did not approach the trip in this way. Several of them were well-versed in Southeast Asian history, politics, and/or culture long before we even started. I say this in all honesty to those of you who fit this description: I give you kudos.)