Travel vs. Education

1 Sep

Allison over at just wrote up a little opinion piece on how travel is not education, and I think that you should go read it. It isn’t earth-shatteringly deep or anything, and it probably won’t change how you live your life. But it is true, and it needs to be said. It is a prominent idea across the world (a traditional Chinese saying claims that it is better to travel ten thousand li than to read ten thousand books {行万里路胜读万卷书}) There are too many idiotic truisms in the world, and now at least I can mark one off of my list of “idiotic ideas that need to me countered.”

In my own reflections concerning the travel-education dichotomy (which is, like all dichotomies, a false one), I can say that I’ve learned much more about Brazil by reading a few books and a few blogs than by living here. When I was in Spain I certainly learned certain things from living there, but I got a very different type of knowledge from reading. If I hadn’t read the books, I would have been able to gain so much less from my time spent there in person. In China it is a bit more ambiguous, only because I feel like I grew so much as a person from living in China. However, there is not doubt that I’ve learned more about China from my readings (which I think are getting to be pretty extensive) than from normal life there. I don’t want to downplay the things that I’ve learned from everyday life, but those experiences are limited to… well, to the everyday.

I can learn about working in a particular type of company, I can learn about the local juggling scene or the improv theater scene, but my experiences are limited to those. I have only 24 hours in a day (most of which I don’t use for exploring new things) and my finances are limited too. So the number of distinct areas that I can explore are of course limited as well. Reading a book can allow me to learn about the political process in China, the muslim influences in Spain, and the growing relationship between China and Brazil. I could never learn these things from personal experience because those items are too far from my own daily experience. That is what education, reading and talking to smarter people really, allows us to do. It allows us to live vicariously and to learn from other people’s experiences. Travel is great, but it isn’t enough alone. Choosing between the two, I would choose ten thousand books over ten thousand li. And you?


2 Responses to “Travel vs. Education”

  1. Allison Jane Smith (@asmithb) September 2, 2013 at 4:05 am #

    Glad you enjoyed my post, Joseph. Having to choose between books and travel would be terrible! But you’ve quite eloquently expanded on my main points with by describing the limits of first-hand experience. We can only experience very narrow slices of life in another place.

    There are other reasons that reading can be much more informative than traveling/living somewhere else. I live in Cambodia, but do not feel comfortable asking the Cambodians I meet about the genocide given its traumatic and sensitive nature. So I largely rely on books to try to understand that particular chapter in Cambodia’s history and its impact on society today.

    • September 2, 2013 at 4:28 am #

      You bring up a good point. That level of sensitivity can be important, especially as an outsider or a guest in another country. Thanks!

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