Taking a Break From Technology
Do you ever feel like you're chained to your laptop or your cell phone has become an extra body part? If so, you're probably not alone. When I was fortunate enough to travel with Semester at Sea last spring, one of the first things I had to adjust to was an almost total lack of communication with the U.S. for about 4 months. While we did have very limited internet access, it was barely enough to use for our classes or to e-mail families back home. Even with the absence of Facebook and Twitter from our lives, the biggest challenge was perhaps leaving our cell phones behind to venture into each country without the comfort of knowing someone back home was just a call away. However, had I been able to spend time using my phone or computer, I really don't believe that I would have valued the experiences as much as I did or interacted with as many new people as I ended up doing.
Without having the technology to kill time with, all of the students on the ship had to actually interact with one another and get to know each other. Having nothing else to really occupy your time with, finding new people to talk to and figuring out new ways to socialize became the main form of entertainment on the ship. Soon, groups of friends were scattered all over, and just playing games or talking for hours became the most popular ways to relax . Even dinner (which really wasn't that good) became an exciting event that everyone looked forward to each night. Without a TV to sit in front of or the internet to peruse for hours, everyone bonded very quickly and in ways that many of us weren't used to as "traditional" means of hanging out. Being forced to abandon conventional communication to truly interact with the people around you made you appreciate just how many interesting and unique people are out there who share the same passion for travel and international experiences that you do.
Once we started to arrive in some of the countries, it became even more clear just how gratifying it was to devote all of our time to interacting with the people and involving ourselves in the cultures of the foreign countries. While I was in Barcelona, Spain enjoying chocolate con churros with a couple of friends, we had to actually find our waiter and ask for the bill because everyone was just relaxing and enjoying each other without feeling rushed or hurried. It turned out he was simply sitting at another table just enjoying conversation with other guests. Taking a moment out of the day just to unwind and enjoy the company of friends is something that seems to be missing from the hustle and bustle of life in the U.S., and is one of the things I enjoyed most about the carefree nature of some other countries.
Similarly, while taking a trip to the Olympic Park in Beijing, China, my group of friends and I were able to spend the day just playing around in the Birds Nest among many local Chinese people.You could tell from their smiles that they were amused by our lighthearted games, and some even asked to take their picture with us. However, had we all been carrying around a cell phone, there is no doubt in my mind that we would have spent this time calling friends from back home or updating ourselves on the latest pop culture news through the internet. Without this technology, we had to form our own entertainment and in turn created a memorable experience that even foreign citizens could appreciate.
While every country I visited with Semester at Sea impacted me in some way, my visit to Namibia left a lasting impression about how Americans live their lives and how they're perceived in foreign countries that are very different from our own. While taking a safari tour through Etosha National Park with the Wild Dog Safaris company, I was able to talk to our guides about their views on life in general and how they feel about Americans. Yet what struck me as the most profound thing our guide George said to us was, "You Americans have watches and clocks, but here in Africa, we have time". It took me a second to even truly understand what he was saying, but soon I realized that he meant Americans must seem so rushed and stressed out that they forget to even stop and enjoy life every so often. After he said this, it made me even happier that I wasn't using much technology during my trip, because it allowed me to focus on all of the people and places I was experiencing on my voyage and appreciate every second that I had away from my home country.
In a way, not being able to use the internet or a cell phone was so much more of a blessing in disguise than I could have ever dreamed of. Not only did it force me to open up to new people much faster than usual, but allowed me to be free from any social constraints while I indulged in every aspect of each country's unique culture. Sure, I slipped back into using my phone nearly every day, and I still procrastinate on the internet whenever I have free time. However, upon returning from Semester at Sea I now realize how important it is to take time every day just to appreciate everything life has to offer.
Even if just for an hour or so, giving yourself some time each day just to enjoy the people in your life or the beauty of the world around you will surely make life seem less hectic and much more enjoyable. Even though you don't have to travel to a foreign country to understand this, hearing it from someone who does understand the beauty of enjoying life really puts into perspective just how much you can take for granted.
The next time you travel somewhere new and exciting to you, think about perhaps leaving the phone or laptop at home- or at the very least in the hotel room.
Michael Gioia is the International Experiences Editor for Wandering Educators