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Travel and perspective

I first started writing for Go Girl while interning for a conflict resolution NGO in Côte d’Ivoire. I was coming out of a semester abroad in Cameroon. My writing from that summer was about passing in between cultures, travelling alone as a woman, pushing my personal limits. After finishing up my undergrad in Washington D.C., I’ve found myself in Bologna, Italy for the first years of my M.A. in conflict management.  Over the past six months, I have been to six countries (UK, Italy, Serbia, Croatia, Austria, and Bosnia-Herzegovina). I am planning a spring break trip to Morocco and recently discovered that I will be interning in Indonesia this summer. This is a crazy, once-in-a-lifetime type of nomadic year.

One of the main take-aways from the first half of this year has been that all this travel is an incredible privilege. As an American, my passport gives me easy access to just about anywhere I want to go. While planning trips with peers from various countries, I’ve learned just how difficult it can be to obtain visas. Friends from recently independent or post-conflict countries (Kosovo, Bosnia Herzegovina) have told me stories about the politics of travel, the hours of waiting in line, of trying to work your plans into a bureaucratically manageable format. Even when you have the necessary paperwork, the basic experience of passing between borders can vary greatly depending on perceptions of your identity on the part of border control and customs officials. As a young, white woman from the United States, I have never been questioned by airport security. This is a radically different experience from many of my friends.

Passports. Photo courtesy of opmsecurity.com.

Differences in experiences passing between borders can be even starker. A day of solidarity with immigrant communities was organized in Bologna earlier this week. I stood in Piazza Maggiore and tested my Italian skills as community organizers and activists encouraged greater tolerance for migrant communities as well as understanding for the social and economic conditions that caused migration in the first place. I spoke with two Nigerian men who told me they were living in Libya when the conflict flared last year. They fled the violence to Southern Italy and have been more or less working their way north ever since. Finding work has been difficult in a nation with its own economic issues and high rates of unemployment. When I asked the duo what their plan was, they replied that they might go to Holland, although it was unclear how they would get there.

I walked away from the solidarity rally reconsidering both the immense privilege of my own experience and my motivations for writing about my travels in a space like Go Girl. I think it’s about more than just wanting to share tips on how to get from point A to B (although that is certainly fun to write about). We travel differently. At the heart of things, I choose to write in a community like this because passing through the same borders feels differently for different people, and we learn the most when we are surrounded by people who challenge us to reconsider our own perspectives.

sgardiner
Sarah Gardiner is an MA candidate at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna, Italy. She graduated from Georgetown University last May where she studied Culture and Politics. Previous international adventures include a semester in Yaounde, Cameroon and a summer interning in Cote d'Ivoire. Things she gets nerdy about includes cross-cultural communication, media for social justice, international hip hop, feminism, and coffee.

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    1 Comment

    1. Well said! I love your point about the need for a reminder about reconsidering our own perspectives. I like to think that travel itself does this inherently, but of course it doesn’t. Thank you for reminding me of one of the reasons I enjoy Go Girl, as well.

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