travelling and learning


This blog has been brewing slowly. I posted it yesterday here, but it fits on this site too. What are we doing here in remote Morocco? Is it worth the expense in time and money and the cost of being away from family and business? Is it not bourgeois luxury this phenomena of travel?

Allow me a little latitude as I try to articulate some thoughts in response to these questions. I’ve been thinking about how travel helps us ‘learn’ really important stuff. I’m not talking about learning as the memorising of a fact, but the ability to adjust, to be agile. Learning, in this sense, is about equipping ourselves with an expanding repertoire of insights, tools, etc from which to interpret and respond what we encounter in everyday life.

Becoming more rooted, more deeply competent in existing sets of insights, or ‘polishing our current repertoire’ if you like, while immensely worthwhile, is not learning in the sense that I am using it here. If a person fails to learn (life skills) they become stuck in childlike ways of behaving through adolescence, or adolescent ways of behaving as young adults etc. Learning is about the capacity to live appropriately and effectively in the fluid circumstances of life.

It is about expanding our toolkit of insights, frameworks etc, so as to be better equipped to live well. If we fail to expand our insight toolkit, and simply become more deeply competent in existing knowledge, we become a parody of ourselves.

It’s an oldy but a goody, but it is rarely possible to learn within our comfort zone. Learning requires a new experience, one that forces us to process things differently. Grief or ill heath for example are great teachers. In fact the best teachers are often experiences we might class as negative. I recall sitting toward the back of a church many years ago listening to a young enthusiastic preacher wax lyrical. At the conclusion, my wise older friend beside me said, “he’ll be good once he’s suffered a bit’.

Intentional learning is about choosing to put ourselves in places where existing responses will not suffice. Getting out of our comfort zone.

So Morocco for us was and is about choosing to challenge our view of what life is like. Watching a NatGeo Adventure show about Berber cuisine is not the same as engaging an artisan in the Fes medina in ‘conversation’, a medina which remains effectively unchanged since the middle ages. Driving through the Riff and Atlas mountains where sweeping valleys are completely devoid of trees other than olive groves, messes with the notion of countryside.

And as any traveller will attest, the challenge of language is also real. We’re never certain what will arrive at the table when we order food … we feel like such doofesses being monolingual.

Of course, one does not need to travel halfway around the globe to learn. But when travel is the go, choosing  a place that expands one’s repertoire makes sense from a learners perspective. And as I wrote about in the 3rd day, being in one place long enough to slow down and just be, is also critically important. Tours rarely offer real learning opportunities from what we’ve seen, if learning means seeking to see the world from an alternative perspective.

None of this means other motivations for travel are not fantastic and valuable. Indeed we have indulged ourselves and our yurting lifestyle of the last few years hardly expands our repertoire except in a single direction.

As I write I am sitting beside Maria and Johanna on the sundrenched rooftop of a riad in Fes, with our bellies full of breakfast. Hardly a challenging environment, and yet the sounds, smells and related lifestyles and beliefs of the community in which we are living this week offer a relentless invitation to think about the simple yet important questions of what matters in life.