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Cultural Empathy as a Passive Learning Experience

By | 2012, Asia | No Comments

Something that has concerned me since the beginning of the semester until now is the difference between active and passive learning. When we identify those things that we have learned we often think of the actively sought out ones, such as learning a language or mathematics. I think it is hard to identify those things that we learn passively ourselves, but these are just the things that others are keen to notice. These would be comments like ‘you have gotten so much better at speaking’ or ‘your powers of leadership have grown immensely.’ The reason for this is that these attributes are borne out of experience and not actively attained.

In the spirit of our travel experience I think I may have found a flaw in the program. Before and during this trip, as well as others, we have prided ourselves at SSU in being intentionally observant travelers. This is to say that we try to seek out the value in all experience and to broaden our worldview. However, there is a point at which I think this hyper-intentionality is counter-productive. We have spent so much time talking about the values and perspectives of Eastern cultures that I think many of us came ‘knowing what to expect.’ Although this is a false expectation, we have nonetheless given ourselves into it with the best intentions.

I have had an interesting opportunity to spend time with two other travel-study groups from American universities. What I have noticed is that their programs do not rely heavily on any sort of cultural empathy or enlightenment in this regard. That is not their main goal. At any rate, as this has not been their main goal their passive learning in this field has been tremendous. The amount of cultural sensitivity and the capacity to try new things in my new friend Jeff (from St Olaf’s University in Minnesota) has far exceeded my own. I have been so hard-pressed to seek this out that it has made me lose the energy for it.

I think that if we value empathy all we need to do is put ourselves in environments that we wish to understand, and we can trust that just by being there our values will rise to the surface. If we concern ourselves constantly with understanding the world around us we may just be losing what we might have gained passively.


Having a Pilgrim’s Spirit

By | 2012, Asia | No Comments

Traveling with SSU has always had the value of pilgrimage come with it. In my own travels I have experienced this on several occasions. The thing I both love and hate about this idea is that to be a pilgrim is to open up yourself entirely to the will of God through the physical experience of travel. Generally, in my own case, this has never been a smooth experience. However, it has always been full of both joy and grief. Pilgrimage for me is an experience through which my steel is tempered, and this time has been no exception.

Usually, it seems that the thing that you need to learn from is the thing you are most avoiding, and in this trip I feel more confronted than ever. In this case I will probably rely on James yet again (possibly paraphrased) – “Do not let yourself be like a wave tossed by the sea, but let endurance have its full effect so that you will be complete and lacking in nothing.”


…what just happened..

By | 2011, Europe | No Comments

Over the course of three months I have been in 15 countries. As much as I love Canada I never quite expected to miss it or any other place for that matter. I have to say, towards the end all I wanted was to go back to Tim Hortons, Hockey, and my own bed. Once I got to Finland I couldn’t handle another language, another culture, and another expense.
This got me thinking about what it means to break away from a worldview. For the life of me, I have been wanting so much to separate myself from that, and yet in my futility I came to long for those things all the more. What I have come to realize though is not that I miss Canada per se, but those things inherent in the necessity for identity. When we started this travel program with the theme of ‘Negotiating Identities’, I found myself understanding this very simply. Like all concepts, it is often hard to understand merely by reading a word, or being told that ‘Identity’ is somehow connected with nationality, race, or the like. Identity is so closely intertwined with worldview, and with similar difficulty they are defined. What I come to ask now is, if so deeply rooted in me is not necessarily patriotism but nationalism, how can I gain true cultural empathy?

Jon B.

Meeting the thin places

By | 2011, Europe | No Comments

Fences, guard rails, glass and alarms surround all of the places that I see. For a while that bothered me, as these great achievements of architecture and historical monuments are trampled over and captured in a photo, lost on a shelf or a hard drive. I see people running past beautiful art and sculptures, and yet in a way I do the same. A quickly materializing theme for me, as of late, is to find the value in the ‘?thin places,’ as Gregg would call them, but amidst the hustle and bustle I have found it hard to find peace in which to do so. Until I spent a day in St. Peter’s Basilica  in the Vatican, surprisingly enough I found great peace there, even after having been shooed away by picture takers and tour guides. I wonder though, as I view the Pieta or the David with a headphone in my ear, how am I receiving the history?