“...it occurred to my mind, one day, to travel again to the lands of other people, and I felt a longing for the occupation of traffic, and the pleasure of seeing the countries and islands of the world, and gaining my subsistence.” From “The Second Voyage of Es-Sindibad of the Sea” in the Stories of The Thousand and One Nights.
Why I travel? As a child, my family made short day trips across the border, usually on foot, to eat and shop in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Not like the hundreds who traversed the border for jobs, we were tourists - day trippers and observers. In his 1956 address to the membership, then AAG President Carl O. Sauer said “The geographer and the geographer-to-be are to be travelers, vicarious when they must, actual when they may. They are not of the class of tourists…” (Sauer 1956, p. 289). I traveled long before I came to the discipline of geography as a graduate student. However, my family’s short daytrips provided a working knowledge of life in a foreign city, albeit a neighboring country, and an understanding that travel was possible and accessible. My proximity to Mexico spurned an interest in the Spanish language and Latin American culture. As a result, many of my foreign travels have been to Latin America.
What did I learn? Sauer (1956, p. 289) reminded us, “The geographic bent rests on seeing and thinking about what is in the landscape…” So, what did I learn while traveling abroad… LOTS! Across four continents (i.e. Australia, Europe, North America, and South America), I strived to be more than a privileged American tourist by stepping outside of a prescribed itinerary. At seventeen, a friend and I literally jumped trains in the London Underground to see and do more than our tour provided. In 1996 when “stranded” in Sydney without a car, I relied on public transportation to explore the city before my travel companions arrived the next day. On consecutive trips to Paraiso Department, Honduras, I helped drill water wells for communities without access to potable water. However, some of my travels included the sit-and-get on a tour bus or a docent with a flag and megaphone. Such touristy excursions provided me with a starting point for further travel and adventure during “free-time.”
I can’t remember when I first read Salter and Meserve’s (1991) article on the life list of a geographer, but the piece resonated. As a new Ph.D. student in geographic education in 2000, I realized I needed to learn a lot more about the epistemology and ontology of the discipline. My own experiences proved Salter and Meserve’s (1991, p. 520) assertion: “Personal travels and field experiences provide a perspective on geography that cannot be duplicated in a library, classroom, office, or lecture hall.”
I’ve been to Quebec twice -- once as a teenage driver on a girls-only road trip with my mother, her sister, and my infant cousin. We girls learned that they really speak French in Montreal -- and we didn’t. That 17-year-old in London also learned that I needed more than the plug adapter to keep your curling iron from burning your bangs. In Sydney in 1996, I learned that my credit union ATM card worked 18 hours from home. In 2005, I took a small group of inner-city San Antonio teenagers to Quebec City on an EF tour. We learned a lot...especially how to travel in a post 9/11 world.
In 2000, I traveled to the Peruvian portion of the Amazon River basin on a tour. I kept my first travel journal. I reflected on how remarkably Victorian and privileged I felt aboard La Amatista and how hypnotizing the frogs sounded at night. To stifle any feeling of American-privilege, a truck stop attendant denied me access to the ladies room in Danli, Honduras, because I was “too dirty” after a day on the drill floor of a water well in 2005. (To his credit, the restrooms were very clean; and I was very muddy!).
In 2013, I helped ground-truth remotely sensed data in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, for my friend Dr. Dawna Cerney. My job was to back up the coordinates of collection sites using the digital camera and MotionXGPS app on my iPhone 4. In the field, I learned more about physical geography, forest fire recovery, bear spray, and my own personal limits than I could have learned from my desk in Oxford, Mississippi. In spite of pushing my physical limits (and perhaps my husband’s mental ones), I would love to go back into the Waterton woods to sing to the bears while collecting data.
How can NCGE help? Every semester, I remind my teacher candidates that experience and time will help them better tell the story of people, places, and events. What I enjoy most about revisiting Salter and Meserve’s (1991, p525) life list is the “push [of] the geographer into the field and away from the library and campus in quest for useful and provocative education.” I’m at 39 of 57, or 68 percent! With each return trip to a favorite place or new expedition, my stories become more vivid; and I tell more than the “single story” of a place or a people (Adichie 2009).
The Board of Directors discussed the role of travel in the professional development of geography educators. While we don’t wish NCGE to become a travel agency (too many companies do that well), we hope to offer opportunities for our members’ professional growth. I sincerely hope you have taken advantage of extended professional development travel opportunities offered by NCGE like GeoCamp Iceland in 2015 and the pre-conference trip to Cuba in 2016. Look for more professional development/travel opportunities from NCGE in months to come. Perhaps, our paths will cross as we travel to far-flung places. I sure hope so!
Adichie, CN. (2009, July). Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of the single story. [Video file]. Retrieved from: https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en on October 13, 2016.
Salter, CL & P Meserve. (1991). Life lists and the education of a geographer. Professional Geographer 43 (4): 520-25.
Sauer, C.O. (1956). The education of a geographer. Annals of the American Association of Geographers 48: 287-99.
Stories from the Thousand and One Nights. Vol. XVI. The Harvard Classics. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909–14; Bartleby.com, 2001.www.bartleby.com/16/. [October 17, 2016].
Dr. Ellen J. Foster
Board President 2016, National Council for Geographic Education