Today was our last day of our program. Tomorrow morning, the students will begin making their return home. Before we go, we had a student, Rosa, who wanted to share her reflections on her experience in Rennes.
The classic American travel story is Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck: an aging Steinbeck, yearning for the open road, fearing a complacency setting in, sets out on a road trip with his dog. In typical Steinbeck fashion, he mainly just muses about the world, trying to hear the opinions of those around him and be absorbed into their groups, traveling alone because “two or more people disturb the ecologic complex of an area” (Steinbeck, 6). He felt that travel aroused desire within people, across the country there was near unanimous desire to leave, leave and go anywhere else. Perhaps not a happy thought, but an interesting one.
I have some qualms about becoming a tourist, especially in such a well traveled area as France. I worried that people would be very bitter towards the tourists that disrupt their home, but mostly they have been very nice. In some areas, it seems almost irresponsible to travel because it is contributing to larger ecological or social issues. In Colorado, some previously pristine areas (give or take a couple of mine shafts) are now overrun with tourists off roading in their SUVs, destroying the delicate vegetation and creating dust storms and erosion. In Dubai, the shining malls and attractions created to lure in tourists cover up the reality that they were built by underpaid migrant workers whose exploitation many liken to modern slavery. Poverty and a lack of economic opportunities have awakened a very different desperation to move, which was taken advantage of as a means to satisfy Western tourists and continue Dubai’s unsustainable growth. As the population of Earth increases along with expectations for quality of life and modern desires like hopping on a plane, we have to consider what the responsibility of a tourist ought to be. And that’s not to say that people, enjoying their slice of freedom, are as a group conscientious of their impact.
I’ve always had that itch for travel and, reservations ignored, I am here. An immersion program allows us to be a little more like Stienbeck, trying to respectfully understand the culture of an area and those who live in it. It’s not possible to give shiny bows or quick resolutions in a blog post, these issues need to be considered far more on a legislative and societal level, but at the very least we can hope to understand people better, gain that sought after perception of the world from the world of the locals.