Travel has always been a big part of my life. While growing up in suburban Atlanta I was one of the few people I knew whose family vacations branched out beyond the usual trip to Florida, or possibly another state to visit relatives.
My exposure to other places and cultures, be it within the U.S. but still exotic, such as Hawaii, or further abroad in places like Canada or Western Europe, helped me to become much more open minded about the world I lived in.
My decision to attend a university half way across the country helped increase my adventurous spirit and further opened my eyes to the differences between people, even within my own country.
To be honest, I always felt like a bit of an outsider growing up in the southern United States. Even though I had moved from the city of Atlanta to a much more rural area when I was still young, I was always more of a “city slicker” than a “country boy.”
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While my friends would go hunting and fishing, I had very little interest in those types of activities, and would instead prefer to go to the mall, play sports, or play video games.
Obviously there were plenty of other people living in the south with similar feelings, but I still felt out of place through the end of my high school years.
As I mentioned, leaving my home state (and region) for another was quite liberating. Obviously every college campus has people from around the country, and even the world, but by being on a college sports team, my teammates and friends seemed to come from a broader area.
I learned a lot about myself and my friends by listening to them speak, watching how they acted, and visiting with them in their homes around the country. I worked hard to hide who I was (a southerner) by changing the way I spoke and the way I did some things.
Of course it didn’t help that everyone called me “Georgia” (there were just too many guys named Chris on the wrestling team I guess), but I did everything I could to not fit the stereotype I had in my mind of what a person from the south looked like.
But as time went by, I was able to disprove some of my preconceived notions of both people from my part of the country, as well as other regions.
by Mike Cline via wikimedia commons
I found that some of the most racist people I had ever met came from “Yankee” states, and that some of the most open minded and liberal people I knew came from southern states, including my own.
I learned that people in California like to go hunting and fishing as well as surfing. So while this helped me feel a little bit better about who I was and where I was from, I still didn’t feel like I really belonged back in Georgia.
It was this nagging feeling that had me thinking I would move to southern California after graduating in order to become what I thought I wanted to be…a punk rock loving surfer dude who just happened to teach History for a living. But the closer I got to graduation, the colder my feet became, and in the end I decided to come back to Georgia to live and work.
Not only did I come back to Georgia, but I also ended up teaching in my old high school and living in the same area where I had spent most of my life feeling like an outsider.
While it was nice to be “back home” for a while, I couldn’t stop the urge to get out and try to find where I really belonged. Three years later I found myself living and working in Beijing, China. This began my life as a true global nomad.
At last count I have traveled to thirty-two countries on 6 continents and have lived in four countries on three different continents.
My wife is from the other side of the world from me, and grew up in a very different culture than I did. Our two-year-old daughter is fluent in Chinglish (with some local Anhui dialect thrown in that she has learned from her Chinese grandparents).
So what does this mean? It means that I feel at home both everywhere and nowhere at the same time. To me, my home is wherever I am working and living at that time.
I have become acutely aware that there is no perfect place in the world, but every place has some good and bad aspects to it. If we can focus more on the good aspects, then we will have a much happier life.
I have also decided that while it is important to remember our roots and celebrate the different aspects of our own culture that makes us unique, I hope people will spend more time looking for the similarities between themselves and others as well. If we can find commonalities between us, then it is much more likely that we will build lasting friendships with the people we meet, even when they come from a different country or culture.
I believe that travel is one of the best educational tools available. Actually visiting a place and interacting with the local culture first hand is much more powerful than reading about it or seeing it on film.
If possible, I recommend people go live in different countries as well. This will give you a much better understanding of what a place and its local population are really like than just visiting it for a few days.
If more people experienced different cultures with an open mind, and looked more at the similarities they had with each other instead of focusing on the differences, we would have a much more peaceful world. I hope you will give it a try.
It all starts with a trip somewhere different from where you live now. Hopefully some of the articles on this website will give you ideas of possible places you could go to begin your journey towards becoming a global nomad as well.