Why Teachers and Artists must travel
There are over 7.4 billion people on this planet. Many are intellectually stimulated by investigating our multicultural, ever-changing world. Educators and artists challenge our perspectives, influence our worldviews and how we interact with one another. It is largely when we travel–be it regionally, nationally or internationally– that we truly grasp cross-cultural norms. To engage the world from a myopic identity is to ignore the billions of possible perspectives that the world has to offer. Both teachers and artists have an opportunity to impact and encourage people to think beyond borders. The exponential affect is great.
When an educator or artist explores diversity through cultural immersion, their students and audiences benefit. An educator can bring the lessons learned to their students in the form of cultural applications of history, science, language, and so on. A well-traveled person cultivates the ability to synthesize different perspectives and values. Many educators and artists strive to take in as many life lessons through cultural exposure and relay that to their respective students and audiences. Several of my educator friends regularly travel abroad during school breaks. In his EDWEEK article, educator Noah Zeichner explains, “We should be teaching our students these skills, and of course, mastering the competencies ourselves. Students need to go beyond their comfort zones and actively learn from (not just about) people who have different worldviews.”
Another reason that it is important to travel is to understand one another. Our culture is increasingly reflective of cultural microcosms in the international environment. Internationally known author Eckhart Tolle suggests, “If you live only in one culture for the first 20 years of your life, you become conditioned without knowing it.” Just imagine an educator that has traveled to France and observed the impact French colonization in contemporary France, or an artist with vivid memories and stories from living and working with the people of Brazil. Research suggests that it’s difficult to learn reading and writing without the cultural context to make sense of sentences (see E.D. Hirsch’s book Cultural Literacy). These experiences become tools that the educator can utilize to bridge cultural gaps, demonstrate context, and inspire change in their community.
Seattle’s John Stanford International School (JSIS)’s mission is to teach students global competency skills and they put this knowledge to work, as mentioned in an EDUTOPIA.com article, “the focus of the global curriculum is not just to talk about social issues, like a lack of potable water, but to do something about these problems.” Helen Lewis, Head Teacher of Ysgol Uwchradd, a leading school in Wales, says, “Foreign travel has also opened the eyes of our youngsters to the importance of being culturally sensitive in a globalizing world. As well as being fascinating, being aware of the cultural values of the country you find yourself in, also helps us to understand a little better some international issues and conflicts. It is a significant skill to be able to see where someone else is coming from, to see things from a new or different perspective. The confidence and cultural sensitivity that traveling helps us to develop, can be used effectively to also help us to be successful.” Some students may not travel abroad until college or later, so their teachers can impart global experiential knowledge onto them.
Artists also impact audiences that engage their work. A single country mentality will relegate the artist to a closed minded perspective that does not allow for variety and beauty to be translated into performance or production. Travel engenders dynamic, multisensory expression and connection. In the WSJ essay “Freedom and the Role of the Artist,” Terry Teachout explains, “ In addition to giving comfort and joy, art also has the miraculous ability to let us live in other men’s skins, to test our perceptions and beliefs against theirs, and perhaps to be changed as a result. It does this by portraying the world creatively, heightening our perception and enriching our understanding of things as they are. Art makes sense of life.” Some people consider the arts as solely as entertainment, but truly the role of the arts includes expanding our awareness through contemplation of the human experience.
I’m American, an educator, a creative, trilingual, and I’ve traveled to 60 countries and lived in 8. All of these experience impact my professional and personal life. A dominant perception of Americans that I encounter and challenge in the global environment is that they are unlearned, uncultured, unaware of and uninterested in international affairs. Every since I studied abroad for the first time in high school to Mexico, I’ve wanted to learn more about the rest of the world. I’m able to relate and connect quickly to so many people because I’ve had several global experiences and I encourage others to travel globally. By creating opportunities for teachers and artists to travel abroad, I am certain their students and audiences benefit.
The artist and the educator have important roles. They inform, teach and inspire others to explore the world. They motivate us to better ourselves and to expand our own horizons. A well-traveled teacher or artist who has global awareness is the best diplomat a country, state, nation, or a classroom or audience can have. Combatting ignorance and hatred happen when illusions of separation and cultural fragmentation are deconstructed. To step outside one’s comfort zone in the global environment allows the artist, the educator, and the person to become more aware of themselves, ‘the other,’ and how globality connects us all.
Jacqueline Cofield, M.Ed. is an advocate for global arts education and founder of J Rêve International.