My curiosity about the world began as a small child and I have my mother to thank for preparing me for my global exploration. By arming me with both practical skills, such as how to read a map, and analytical skills, like how to see the world from a different perspective other than my own, my mother paved the way for the world adventures that have become my life.
Over the years, my mother has taught me so much about the world. Here are some of the most important lessons I’ve learned from her.
Lesson #1: Make your life what you want it to be
One of my favorite family stories was “the time Mom cut the cord to the TV”. The story goes that one evening my mother called my Dad to the dinner table after making the effort of preparing a nice meal. My father delayed and finally my mother had had enough and so with a pair of her sewing scissors cut the cord to the TV – mid-program! The TV was promptly thrown out and was never replaced. I took from this story not to be a victim of circumstance and instead take action to create the type of life I want. Taking this lesson from my mother, I have designed a life for myself of discovery through travel.
Lesson #2: Go right to the map!
Dinners were spent at the kitchen table at which there was an unwritten rule that a mention of any foreign place was followed by us all marching into the living room to inspect the map, pinpointing the location in question. Although I grumbled at having to interrupt my meal, I secretly loved it. I loved learning about far away places. This helped me imagine what the world looked like from the perspective of other locations. I loved how “up there” or “way over there” changed to “down there” or “right next door” based on where your point of origin was on the map. In my adult life this simple pleasure has become a reality: When I lived in Germany, my home country was “over there”, in Canada, it was “down there”, and now in Thailand, the USA is “way over there”.
Lesson #3: Do not view the world ethnocentrically
Once a poorly designed map gave my mother the perfect opportunity to teach me the meaning of the word “ethnocentric”. After buying a map at a local strip mall we peeled off the plastic and unrolled the new edition to our wall, only to find that the United States was smack dab in the very center of the map, causing Asia to be cut in half. My mother made sure that the next map we bought had the non-ethnocentric version where the cut was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, highlighting no particular country. I have taken away from this that every country should be equally valued and now strongly believe that every country boasts something spectacular, beautiful or interesting and I aim to discover this in every place I visit.
Lesson #4: Looks are not important
My mother always downplayed the way we dressed or did our hair, explaining that looks are superficial and bear no resemblance to a person’s character. I believe this lesson has helped me build strength by focusing on the way I conduct myself instead of the way I look, but you might be surprised to learn that this lesson has also had a practical application while traveling. I travel extremely lightly, having not checked a bag in over a decade. By focusing more on the environment, make-up, heavy hair dryers and hair products never make my packing list. I find I’m more mobile when on a trip, but also by not having a daily beauty regiment I have been able to sleep in a variety of unflattering places including in a tent on the Great Wall of China, in a nomad tent at Mt. Everest Base Camp in Tibet, in an Ifugao hut in the Banaue Rice Terraces of the Philippines, and in a Mayan long house in a Guatemalan cloud forest. I did not win any beauty contests but thanks to my mother I didn’t care and instead focused on the beauty and significance of my location.
Lesson #5: Do not be afraid of change
Tying into the lesson of making my life what I want it to be, I learned from my mom to welcome change. I saw her change careers frequently, from starting her own business as a music publisher to becoming a massage practitioner, and from being a successful percussionist to an organic farmer. Although change may be daunting at times, witnessing my mother redefine herself instilled in me the confidence to live and work in foreign countries, to travel spontaneously and to find a career that both challenges and excites me. And so I owe my globetrotter lifestyle, in a state of continuing change, to my mother.
Lesson #6: Learn about other cultures
As a child, I remember going to various cultural events, such as the Chinese Film Festival at the Walter’s Art Gallery with my mom. She introduced me to different cuisines, including Afghani food at the Helmand restaurant in Baltimore. I can recall one afternoon when she brought home a starfruit for us to try, and I often find myself doing the same with dragon fruit, mangosteen or even durian. People from Indonesia, Turkey and Germany, to name a few, stayed with us, sometimes celebrating holidays with us. Through my mom, I learned the mutual enrichment of friendships with people from different cultures. When I travel, I make sure I learn as much as I can about each culture, including its food, language, traditional dress, music and customs, not simply visiting locations.
Lesson #7: Think critically
Possibly the most important lesson my mother taught me is to always question things and think beyond the wrapping in which something is presented. I learned to question motivations behind peoples’ actions, something that has come in handy when dealing with touts and possible scammers in tourist areas. The ability to think critically has also helped when observing things I don’t understand, whether it be behavior, a way of doing things or an event. I take the time to investigate things I hear or read, and I refuse to accept information at face value. Thanks to my mother, I prefer to do first-hand research, traveling to places and discovering the truths on my own.
Lesson #8: Stand up, even if it makes you stand out
As a vegetarian family, we often stuck out as different. My mother taught me that, sometimes, it’s necessary to go to great lengths to ensure that my values and morals are upheld. For example, my mom drove all around Amish country in Pennsylvania trying to find moon pies made without lard so that I could try one for the first time. (By the way, it was delicious!)
Following in my mother’s footsteps, I never sway from my vegan principles, even if it means extremely limited meal options while traveling and missing out on many local specialties. Additionally, since I am in a same-sex, bi-national marriage, I’m pretty sure I will always stand out. Thankfully, my mother armed me with the backbone to stand up in the face of ridicule and resistance. Being used to standing out, I now welcome boarding a bus or entering a restaurant where I am the only foreigner.
Thank you, Mom, for both fueling my desire to experience the world and giving me the skills necessary to explore, appreciate and learn from those global experiences.