It’s generally agreed upon that traveling is a source of learning. You are able to experience new cultures - the food, sights, and smells. It’s stimulating and as such thought provoking as you are confronted with new things. It’s these “hands on” aspects that are most shareable with Instagram, Skype, or responding to the “How’s China?” question. I’d call this the “light side” of travel.
But there’s another aspect to learning through travel that we don’t talk about very much, a “dark side.” Traveling also helps you learn in the ways that it doesn’t stimualte you and cuts you off from those things in life you took for granted to interact with and be supported by. While here in China, I feel like I am constantly living with an invisible filter that affects my capacity to perceive things. The language barrier, for example, prevents me from fully understanding and engaging in almost every social situation. Therefore, I must learn to compensate for this with a greater reliance on body language and frankly just being okay with not knowing everything that’s discussed. General ettiquete and cultural understandings are different from my own, which means I am better off erring on the safe side of things when discussing new topics or meeting new people. This becomes especially prominent the longer one travels in one place, as the “light side” things lose their luster and one settles into their locale.
This dark side is unavoidable and prevents me from understanding China in the same manner as I would in America, but it still teaches valuable lessons. Because I am living with this filter preventing my original conception of normalcy, I am forced to discover and utilize new avenues of support. Whereas at home I would rely heavily on conversation, I am now realizing the value and skill of observing and listening in private. I need to find the fun in being completely alone for long periods of time. When the usual tactic for talking to someone fails, I have to learn a new method that I otherwise would never have considered back at home.
Maybe this doesn’t sound that great and even contrary to our general perception of travel, and that’s exactly why I would call it a dark side. It’s really difficult to share this, particularly over social media. It even has been difficult to define it properly in this blog. I would argue, however, that the value of this dark side is equal to or greater than what knowledge that might be gained from the light side to travel.