I have been quite fortunate throughout the years to have the opportunity to travel. Each journey, I takeaway something new and different. These take aways are dependent on the purpose, the itinerary, the goals, and the place I am in life. As an educator who focusses on building global competence in my students, it is not surprising that recent travels have forced me to consider how my own global competence is developing alongside that of my students. You don't have to go far... but you can.
For example, in October my husband and I took a trip to Chicago to visit friends. If you think I am crazy for saying that flying to Chicago can be a learning experience that challenges your 21st Century Life Skills and Global Competence Skills then you have never travelled with Spirit Airlines. Perhaps it's the fact that you don't expect the different "way" of life that truly throws you off guard. Having thought we got a deal on our flights, we soon learned that we were going to have to pay for EVERYTHING. Seats, sodas, carry - on luggage. This isn't the norm for US travel and we were shocked. The culture of Spirit airlines was way different then anything we had even seen. The cultural challenge was even more so apparent, when we got to the counter to grab our boarding passes and the women informed us that we HAD to get our boarding passes from the computer behind us. The use of the computer to enable our travel was not an option, it was a requirement. While I calmly moved through this experience (personally pretty inept at travel technology) and furthermore the carrying of my luggage a few hundred feet to another security check (also not the norm) I could sense my husbands frustration in this new process and identified the need for flexibility and patience in this new situation. This was just a precursor and reminder before the big trip.
Fast forward two months later, and here we are in the airport of Rio de Janeiro. Let's state the obvious, we knew that without more then "Bom Dia" between us in terms of Portuguese language skills, this was going to be a sometimes interesting experiencing as we pointed, gestured and laughed our way through communication for the two week journey. But what other cultural/global competence skills did we learn and or practice? Let's take a look.
World Savvy, defines global competency as, "the knowledge, skills and disposition necessary to navigate and succeed in today's interconnected world. Globally competent individuals are life-long learners, have a an appreciation for cultural differences, an ability to understand and consider multiple perspective, critical and comparative thinking skills, problem solving abilities, comfort with ambiguity and change, and understand globally significant issues".
While Brazil was on my "bucket list" I certainly didn't know a ton about the country before our visit, and in fact after only two weeks in the Rio region, I am by far no Brazilian expert. While investigating the possibilities of my trip, it quickly became apparent to me what a large country this is. Perhaps I shouldn't have been shocked. My first real learning experience about Brazil came a few months before my plane actually took off. When we start to think of the interconnectedness of the world, we can turn our heads straight to the Visa Application process. I was shocked to learn some time after booking my ticket (the airline made no mention) that I would need a visa before going to Brazil. Ok, I wasn't shocked to learn I needed a VISA as most countries do require travel visas, but I was shocked to learn that I needed an appointment at the local Brazilian Embassy to process my visa and it would cost $160. The word Reciprocity was blinding me through my internet searches as I called multiple agencies in the hopes someone could provide me a visa appointment. Thank you Casto Travel. The only appointment I could get on my own was 2 weeks AFTER my trip. This is a real struggle and in fact is a reason sometimes people don't travel to Brazil. (BTW you can go this summer without but bear in mind the crowds and costs associated with Olympic Travel) The interesting part to this was the Denis didn't need a visa at all with his Irish passport. The world really does work on the I pat your back, you pat mine... I couldn't help but want to learn more about the relationship of this country to others, and where else in the world Visa Requirements vary based on country relationships. I was already wondering...
My trip to the favelas of Rio (Tour Company) was also a powerful part of my trip and one that allowed to me really see the issues of poverty in this country and it's interconnectedness to other human issues. My tour had a focus on education. The goal of one the favelas was to provide community learning spaces that allowed the students a place to go after school for a safe learning environment to do homework with assistance, play with others and receive tutoring they may need. The goal of the second was to make athletics visible. Encouraging kids to participate as a means of keeping them out of trouble on the streets. On this journey through the favelas I learned about education systems, poverty, human rights and crime. It challenged some of my assumptions and allowed me to connect many of the issues of Brazil to other places I have travelled in the past. Perhaps one of the most immediate connections to my class-work with micro-finance was what I learned about Azul Airlines.
Brazilians were constantly dealing with the long bus journeys across this vast country to visit family. However, Azul Airlines, founded by the same man who founded Jet Blue decided he needed to give more access to his airline to reduce this long travel time. He created a program that allowed people who were able to book advance travel to pay for it over a ten month period of time. Because so many of the people living in Brazil had a hard time saving the bulk of the money up front this allowed a payment plan that allows for people to enjoy more of their time. I still look forward to working this into a conversation with the boys at school and for them to think about it as it relates to social entrepreneurship.
I would be amiss to say I could tell all the stories of this trip in a blog post. So on the short end of things I am certainly more inept in currency exchanges, times people eat, drink and dance, the culture of the beach, local activities, and Brazilian food. I was amazed at the amount of steak and potatoes I consumed, alongside Italian fare and of course the filet de peixe (the best was right on the beaches of Buzios). I also encourage you all to try a Caipirinha. I know now that traveling for Christmas to a Christian Country comes with the knowledge that it might be hard to find a place to eat on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. And that Rio for New Years-if you don't plan to eat on the beach-think ahead due to closures. And, that a "direct" bus from Rio to Buzios does NOT take 2.5 hours (rather close to 5) depending how many people approach the bus driver and ask to get off at random exits along the way. I learned after a challenging trip on the water due to claustrophobia that you might want to pay the extra $10 for the boat trip if it makes the difference between sharing space with 150 people vs 12. And in general to ask more questions, make little assumptions.
And yet most importantly, I know that I am a better person for waiting in the long lines of Christ the Redeemer (patiently as possible for all 2.5 hours-No they aren't ready for this summers crowd there), soaking in the Rio Sunshine while communicating with the people of both Brazil and the many other travelers we met along the way, taking the time to learn about the favelas and engage in conversation with the people living in them, not being fearful of the homeless or beggars (we have them here too), or the safety of my person or belongings (despite the fear people tried to instill me ahead of time) and for challenging my self to order things off the menu that I had no idea what they were.
Thank you for a good time Brazil. Thank you for making me a more globally competent individual and for allowing me to first wonder and connect, then apply these lessons to my classroom. And thanks for making that Visa good for 10 years. I just might make it back:)