Lessons from Abroad

I recently returned from a trip overseas with my family and some friends. We spent a total of fifteen days in Europe, almost equally divided between Sweden and Holland. This week, I thought I’d spend a little time reflecting on my travels. Since this trip wasn’t work related, my observations and reflections are not going to be directly related to teaching and learning.

1. Despite being almost 250 years old, the United States is still so young.
Stockholm was founded in 1252. Amsterdam was founded in 1275. While neither city has many buildings still standing from the early days of their formation, it wasn’t uncommon to walk past buildings that were older than the United States. In Stockholm, we visited the Vasa Museum which houses a fully intact ship that sank on its maiden voyage in 1628. The sunken ship was discovered in the 1950s and salvaged in the 1960s. Also, while in Stockholm, we passed the location of the Stockholm Bloodbath of 1517 where King Christian orchestrated an elaborate dinner party that led to the execution of almost 100 of his political opponents. Just being around so many historic locations and objects helped to put current events into greater context.

2. I don’t walk enough.
Over the course of fifteen days, I walked over 100 miles, averaging more than seven miles per day. While I’m an avid biker and exercise regularly, my Apple Watch never records that level of activity on my daily strolls across campus or in my neighborhood. This trip definitely demonstrated that I’m capable of walking more than I currently do.

3. America needs better public transportation.
While staying in Stockholm and Amsterdam, we mainly relied on public transportation to get around. Both cities have robust transit systems that allow people to travel around easily and inexpensively. For example, while staying in Holland, my family took a train from Amsterdam to Utrecht for about $20 round trip. Between the trains, buses, trams, and subways available in both cities, we never needed a car. I don’t know if someone could travel to the United States and have that same level of access, though.

4. Smartphones have made traveling internationally so much easier.
With the wide variety of apps available for international travelers, going overseas has really never been easier. When shopping for groceries in Stockholm, I pulled up Google Translate to be able to read the labels on several products. When planning our trips around the cities, we used apps like 9292 and Google Maps to navigate from place to place. I don’t speak Swedish or Dutch but despite the language barrier, most people we encountered were really helpful and kind. But the apps helped us be a little more independent and figure things out on our own.

5. I need to travel again soon.
This trip was mainly prompted by a study abroad trip that my daughter had planned to attend this summer. When her university canceled the trip in February, my wife and I decided to step in and try to plan a similar outing for her and our family. While the trip was an educational journey for my daughter, I’ve caught the travel bug myself and can’t wait to plan our next trip.

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