Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Travel: Memories of Maps, Globes, National Geographic, Big Blue Marble, and Exchange Programs

Check out the new world map I've posted on the bottom of my blog. It shows the countries I've traveled to in my life. I look at that map and I think two things. First I think - wow, how fortunate and lucky am I to have spent time in all of these beautiful places. Next I look at the map again and I think - wow, there is so much of the world I have not seen! My list of travels is impressive, but look at all those unvisited places. It is a sobering reminder of how big our world really is. I realize it feels quite small these days in many ways due to all the crazy and rapid changes in communication and travel I've witnessed in my life, but it is still a BIG world.

Looking at that map got me remembering...I have always loved looking at maps and globes, and I still do. I remember when I was a little girl and would spend hours playing in the home office at our neighbor's house. They had a giant atlas and a beautiful globe. I would pour through the maps in the atlas and spin the globe and stop it with my finger to see which magic place I could think about next. The colors and shapes and the names on the maps and the globe fascinated me. Did you do that when you were a child? I still do it, but I don't have a globe or a giant atlas in my house, although I do have an awesome giant old school map of Africa, the kind that has raised topography so you can feel the mountains on it. (Note to self - you need to find a fantastic globe). 

These neighbors also subscribed to National Geographic and saved all of the issues, so they had a bookshelf lined with them. That bookshelf seemed so huge to me at that age and its contents were amazing. I would pour through those magazines, at that age mostly looking at the photographs, not really reading anything. I haven't thought of that memory in years and years and I never really thought until just this moment that this experience probably contributed greatly to my interest that grew over the years in geography and history and travel (Thanks Mr. and Mrs. Mellott!).

Now that I am thinking about it, I believe that obsessively watching Big Blue Marble also contributed to me becoming a traveler. Do you remember that show from the 70s? I loooved it! I remember watching it really early on either Saturday or Sunday mornings on PBS. I can still hear the theme song in my head after all of these years. The lyrics:

"The earth’s a Big Blue Marble when you see it from out there.
The sun and moon declare our beauty’s very rare.

Folks are folks and kids are kids we share a common name.
We speak a different way but work and play the same.

We sing pretty much alike, enjoy Spring pretty much alike;
Peace and love we all understand and laughter, we use the very same brand.

Our differences, our problems from out there there’s not much trace
Our friendships they can place while looking at the face of the Big Blue Marble in space."

I found the song on the internet - click on the link to hear it: Big Blue Marble - Original Theme SongPretty groovy huh? It was a beautiful show that exposed kids to other kids and their cultures around the world. I think that show had a profound effect on me.

Flash forward to age 16 and the next big thing that shaped the traveler I would become - the AFS Intercultural Program. I became an AFS exchange student in Kenya. When you are 16 and you go and spend a summer living with a family in Mombasa, it will rock your world and change who you are forever. (Thanks Mom!). 

I can't speak highly enough about the AFS program and my experience there. Because of my experience I am a huge supporter of international exchange programs - any kind as long as it is a legitimate organization and program. I think it should be a requirement for all children to leave the US and their family and be put into another culture for a period of time. Not just the US - this should be a global requirement. I firmly believe that exchange programs could keep us all from destroying each other. It is far easier to misunderstand, hate and hurt what and who you do not know, and far more challenging to misunderstand, hate and hurt the personal and familiar.

There have been many other things that happened in my life, and opportunities that presented themselves, that would continue to turn me into a world traveler, but those were the building blocks that I think turned me into the girl who wanted to, and did, travel to all those places on that map. And who wants to travel to many more places before she leaves this big blue marble. 

The Big Blue Marble - Credit to NASA and R. Stockli, A. Nelson, F. Hasler

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