I just got back from a two-week trip to New Zealand.
Somewhere in a cramped airline cabin over the Pacific, exhausted but unable to sleep, knowing we had hours to go before landing and another flight to board when we did, it was easy to question why I had spent a frighteningly large portion of my discretionary income to put myself in that spot. Fortunately, I had a lot of good answers.
“Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer.” So say many cutesy internet graphics. I don’t know who first said that. The sentiment isn’t perfect — in my opinion, an education, not travel, will make someone richer in any sense of the word (though my student loans might sometimes give me some doubts). But I have always thought travel is a vital part of education.
Travel teaches patience, flexibility, empathy. It reveals new ways to live and values different from my own. But my favorite part of seeing the world is what I bring back with me — intangible souvenirs like a different way to brew coffee, memories of hiking over lava fields to the ocean, even a new way to look at life.
New Zealand is so isolated that an astonishingly large number of world maps completely omit it. Australia is the nearest country, but it’s still three or four hours away by plane. It would make perfect sense for a country so far from the beaten path to embrace the isolation. Instead, young Kiwis are encouraged to have an overseas experience — to leave home, live in another country or travel for a few years. The New Zealand government encourages this through extensive reciprocal visa and licensing agreements, which make it easy for Kiwis to live and work in a variety of countries.
But equally if not more important, the emphasis on seeing the world has been passed down for generations. That’s why we met so many people with dual citizenship — born to one or two Kiwi parents living overseas — and heard about so many amazing experiences: teaching on a tiny Scottish island, helping to farm roses in Israel and working in western Africa. Taking advantage of such opportunities makes the world easier to understand. It also makes it easier to fill our lives with love.
Living in and visiting other countries gave me a new appreciation of American culture and history, as well as my role and place in it. It changed my opinions on what I should appreciate and what I should condemn. I also learned what I should try to bring home with me: a broadened perspective, which is perhaps the most valuable asset in policy and in life.