David: How does travel change people? Why is it important for people to travel?
Blonnie: I think it’s important for people to travel because, first of all, it’s fun. But if you travel outside of the touristy areas you really start to learn about other cultures.
Let’s say Mexico and we’re in Playa del Carmen, we’re in some resort, then you kind of get the taste of what people are really like, but then again the people are getting paid to be there. So take a step off of the resort and you get to see what the real country is like and you’re no longer living your life knowing about that country only from what you heard on television or read online.
D: So there’s this saying both in English and in Polish “travel broadens your horizons”. Do you think that’s true?
D: I agree. I think travelling lets you get rid of your stereotypes. We tend to form our opinions based on our immediate environment.
Let’s say someone lives for their entire life in an orange house. And the neighboring houses are also orange. They then form an opinion that every house in the world has orange walls and when someone tells them that there are houses in other colors, they’d say that that person is wrong because “I’ve seen many houses in my life and they’re all orange”.
Some people talk this way about America: that the houses are terrible, built in a certain simple way, the streets are dirty. When you ask them where they live, they tell you it was in a certain area of New Jersey which is not so great. So then you ask them whether they’ve seen any other places outside of where they lived and it turns out they lived there for two years and never been outside of that run-down area of New Jersey. So how can you have a general opinion if you haven’t explored?
B: Let’s talk about places outside of the US. Let’s take for example some immigrants from Honduras. People judge them based on the United States environment. People say “If they don’t like the area they live in, they should just move somewhere else.” Or “If they don’t want to deal with that kind of situation they should do this”. It’s easy to say until you put yourself into that person’s shoes and encounter the same problems they do. If you actually travel to a location and see the houses people live in, the type of crime that exists in the area, it makes you understand the realities of other people who are totally different from our own realities.
D: I travelled to Guatemala, I went to Antigua and to Lake Atitlan area and somewhere in between those two places. Within the city the conditions were okay, but as soon as you move outside of the city, it was tragic. In some places people lived in houses made of a few sheets of metal. That absolutely changes you. It makes you stop for a second and think about how privileged you really are. We have a fairly safe shelter and some people don’t even have that. It’s easy to judge those people when you’re inside your warm home watching TV, forming your opinions based on seeing only your small piece of reality. But it completely changes you when you see those things for yourself and start to get a different perspective on people’s lives.
B: Did me going to Poland with you make you see your own country in a different way?
D: I saw my town from a different angle. Your perspective has to be different because we grew up in two extremely different realities. You in rural Texas and me in a small town under the communist regime.
B: The places we have seen and the stories that went with them – like Warsaw and the photos of what it used to look like and the beautiful city it is right now. I realized, at some point, this was decimated. Being there and seeing those things in real life makes you feel differently that reading about it in a book. Reading the book kind of separates you from those events. It’s until you go there and imagine it, it really hits you that all that really happened and people were living there and had to go through that.
People really like to think that they have things figured out and they want to put their thoughts in a little box and the older I get the more I realize that there’s no way you can box situations. There’s just so many variables and you learn all of that from travelling, you learn that you can’t put a people in a box. When you tell me stories about Polish people, it’s different when I actually go and talk to them, they’re a lot nicer than you make them out to be. And then you hear about stereotypes. I have not heard about a single stereotype about Polish people until you’ve told me some. I think you take stereotypes away when you meet people in real life. And it helps you have empathy for those people.
It helps you realize that there truly are always two sides to the story, if not more. We often project our past experiences and opinions without really asking the question why. Why did this person do that? Why are they acting this way?
Travelling helps you see people not as a people but as individuals.
D: How did travel change you?
B: When we visited your dad’s hometown and we saw that building that was in the middle of the ground and they were digging under there. First of all it makes you realize “Holy crap, those places are really old and they’ve just been stacking on top of one another!”. Specifically he said “I remember playing in that pile of rubble by this building when I was a kid.” You watch movies or read books about those sort of situations and you’re, like I said, disconnected from it, but then you realize how different the world must’ve looked to a person like that versus my father who grew up on riverbanks fishing and hanging out with his brother and going to drive-thru hamburger shops.
D: Imagine the scale of problems. My father, playing in the rubble in a place destroyed by war, and your father living in rural Texas living this sort of utopian life.
B: While travelling you realize the scale of problems. People right now live in those sort of situations. Even within one country, when you travel to the city, the reality is different. Your father’s story made me realize how there’s more people who grew up in that environment and how the world must look different through their eyes.
D: I think as far as my own experience goes it really taught me to drop my assumptions. It’s very easy to judge people and I did it more than I’d like to admit before I started travelling and seeing different parts of the world and seeing how different people’s realities can be. Everything goes into it: the landscapes, the traditions, the habits, the look of the buildings, the colors you experience, mountains, roads – everything looks different in different parts of the world. It makes you realize how privileged you are and how we all live on those crazy levels. It made me realize that no matter how bad my situation is there’s always someone else out there who has it worse. We should be happy and appreciate what we have in life.
B: But then again we shouldn’t discredit our own issues just because someone’s situation is worse than ours. It makes me realize that other people have other sets of issues and you have to learn to have more empathy for those people.
Before I left Poland for good I have to admit that I had opinions based on the fragments of information that were available to me back there. But when I came here I realized that we all are truly the same. We have the same feelings, we have the same problems, we deal with the same problems. Maybe on a different scale, maybe in a different part of the world.
Different types of issues, problems that we can’t even comprehend that exist until you meet people and realize “Wow, this is what they have to deal with?”
D: When it comes to people’s relations we deal with the same things, but when it comes to environmental and sociological problems, you have to realize the scale. Travel also really inspires you. As soon as you go to a different place you start breathing different air. Seeing this gorgeous lake in Oregon, the forest in Yellowstone park and the desert in Utah and the Salt Flats in Utah, you have so many new thoughts in your head. It inspires you to create new things.
B: One of my favorite things about travelling is seeing all of the old buildings and the old artifacts because I certainly have never seen things like that growing up. I had a building in my neighborhood that was built in the 1800s and that was old. But when we went to Rome or even that restaurant in Poland and seeing this painting on the ceiling that’s been there for hundreds of years. It blows my mind that this stuff could still be there. Someone’s hand at some point in history touched a brush to this roof and here I am eating ice cream and drinking coffee. That person who painted it had no comprehension of how society would be today.
D: So what would you say to people that are still thinking whether they should travel somewhere?
B: I think it’s hard to get out of your comfort zone. You have to put yourself out there and talk to people. It’s eye-opening. You don’t learn as much if you just stay in the touristy areas and don’t explore.
It is a lot different to learn about a country’s history from the country itself and not just from what we read in our own history books. Everything has been given a filter when we learn it through “others” but when you go to the country where all of the actual history took place, and the ancestors still live there, you see it from an entirely different perspective. I’ve learned a lot about Poland in this way (and of course, from you David, so that is a little skewed) but here [Mexico], for instance. The museums, the stories, the plaques on buildings, the statues – you start to understand more about what stories created the country and the people. It’s so much more interesting!!!”