Director's Note | June 2022
I’m writing this column from the lobby of a terminally hip hotel at Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris, eagerly awaiting the return of 14 CCI students who cheerfully embraced an unexpected opportunity to explore Paris on a warm, spring afternoon.
To quote The Princess Bride, “Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” When offered the opportunity to accompany 14 CCI students en route to their three-week intersession course at Kent State’s campus in Florence, Italy, I jumped at it. Alas, like many of the best-laid travel plans, our group’s itinerary didn’t survive first contact with the realities of summer travel in Europe.
Our flight arrived late, we waited in an interminable queue to pass through security for our connecting flight, then waited some more in a hot and stuffy hall for immigration clearance. By the time we’d navigated all these formalities, our plane to Florence was well on its way — without us aboard.
After enduring more lines, tolerating some predictable – yet oddly endearing — French dismissiveness, and wiping the sweat off our brows in a waiting room that reserved all the cool air for those working behind plexiglass windows, we had a new plan in hand: Hotel rooms, meal vouchers and flights to Florence for the next day with the happy consequence of a day to explore in Paris.
I’ve had the privilege of traveling with lots of college students to lots of places around the world. I can say definitively that it’s always exhausting, but always rewarding. There’s nothing like watching students test their comfort zones while discovering people, places and experiences that are alien to their own lives. When students get the chance to see themselves, their beliefs, and their home through others’ eyes it can be life changing.
Of course, it’s a cliché to wax poetic about the mind-expanding benefits of travel, but Mark Twain got it exactly right when he mused in Innocents Abroad that, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness… Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
At a time when the tenor of American political debate is increasingly fraught, and we struggle to find common ground even with those in our own families, neighborhoods and social groups, there’s nothing like the complete reset one can experience when landing somewhere unfamiliar and discovering anew many of the things we have in common: That communication is possible without a common vocabulary. That some things are just universally funny. And that everyone can benefit from a leisurely post-prandial passeggiata (after dinner walk).
So, as I await my students’ triumphant return from a day of Parisian exploration, I propose a toast to indulging the spirit of adventure. May we take inspiration from these young explorers and never stop indulging that same spirit in ourselves.