Travelling is freedom. Unless you are forced to travel. Blogger Kristina Simonaityte reflects on this.
Last week I attended a Studium Generale talk entitled “Does travelling broaden your mind?” At one point in the discussion prof. Ruud Welten, who gave the presentation, remarked that “travelling is freedom”, which immediately made me think of my youth. For a long time, people in Lithuania couldn’t travel at all. In the nineties everyone was extremely poor, and before that they were simply not allowed to – you know, Cold War, Iron Curtain, all that. My first trip to Western Europe (and my very first trip abroad) came less than two years after my mum’s first venture “to the other side”. I was 8 while she was about 30. Vastly different experiences.
As we became an independent country, the borders opened up and it was for us to make something out of it. Upon our every new foreign adventure my grandmother never fails to mention how her dad – who was actually born in Chicago in 1916 but the family re-emigrated to Lithuania a few years later – all his life longed to be able to go back. (Now we are doing our best to travel the world for him.) So travelling is indeed freedom, in a sense.
But the full quote actually went like this: it is freedom for Westerners (or those who can afford it), but for refugees, for example, freedom would be being able to safely stay in their home countries. Being forced to travel is a tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians and others didn’t think they were on some great adventure when being deported to the depths of Siberia in post-war years. Or Irish migrants to US in the 19th century, or Africans taken into slavery before them. Or climate refugees in the future – they probably won’t think so too.
It’s difficult to put yourself in the shoes of these people. I moved to the Netherlands with no obstructions whatsoever and no one will stop me if I want to stay here after graduation. Reading the gruelling accounts of refugees, I feel ashamed of complaining about the bureaucracy I experienced last year, when I came to the Netherlands. I feel even worse for somewhat fearing refugees and whatever it’s their “culture” that the media keeps blaring about – so much for travel broadening my mind… I could blame it on being brought up in extremely homogenous, all white culture. But the diversity of the Dutch society to me is actually fascinating. So there must be something else that worries me.
Here I would actually agree with another argument prof. Welten made: that you can broaden your mind even without leaving home, but simply by interacting with the strangers who are already surrounding you. From what we see happening in Europe today such “travelling” might be much more challenging. But hopefully also rewarding – for everyone involved this time.
Kristina is a second year student MSc Forest and Nature Conservation.