On traveling and shattering “borders”

“BORDERS? I have never seen one. But I have heard they exist in the minds of some people,” Thor Heyerdahl, the famous Norwegian adventurer and ethnographer, once said. 

 Heyerdahl is known for his Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947, in which he sailed 8,000 km (5,000 mi) across the Pacific in a hand-built raft (balsa) from South America to the Tuamotu Islands. He designed this expedition to demonstrate that ancient people could have made long sea voyages, creating contacts between separate cultures. He undertook subsequent journeys to show the potential of an encounter between widely separated ancient people, notably the Ra II expedition in 1970 when he sailed from the west coast of Africa to Barbados in a papyrus reed boat. (Source: Wikipedia)

In today’s times, we don’t have to be a genius to plan great expeditions to encounter people in other parts of the world. All we need is time, a few thousand dollars, a passport, a visa, the Internet, good health and a dose of courage to get our plane or cruise tickets to travel to any country in our bucket list. 

Hopefully, our travels would not only grant us rest and leisure but more importantly, as Heyerdahl envisioned, would allow us to have meaningful encounters with people of other cultures and to appreciate the history and beauty of our planet. It’s what makes traveling enriching in both mind and spirit.

One of the positive effects of social media like Facebook and Instagram is the urge or the desire of many of us to see other countries. As family members and friends post pictures of their travels, we too dream of seeing the places they went to someday.  This dream is not too remote. As I said, all we need is time, money, and good health.

 “Travel more while you’re still young,” many people advise us.

Although this is sound advice, I’ve seen many people in their senior or retirement years that still enjoy traveling and meeting people around the globe. Is it because of our adventurous human spirit, our way of overcoming boredom, or our appetite for more exhilarating and enriching experiences of life? 

Perhaps it’s all these things, but in the end, I hope that our travels would make us better global citizens, appreciating and accepting people of all colors, languages, and cultures, and removing biases and prejudices from our minds against people who may be different from us. Indeed, I hope that our travels would shatter the “borders” that exist in our minds.

 Airports are excellent places to examine the borders in our thoughts. In airports, we encounter a sea of human beings of different species, mingling, walking, and running side by side.  What do we think when we see people of another race or feature? How does our mind react when we look at them dress or speak distinctly? How are we judging when we look at someone married to a person of another race? What’s in our heart when we see a group of tourists behaving differently?

 Ah, traveling! It’s the best way to learn as old platitude says, but more than this advantage, I hope it removes the “borders” that exist in our minds!

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From a Filipino immigrant family, Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas was ordained to the priesthood from St. John’s Seminary in 1991. He served as Associate Pastor at St. Augustine, Culver City (1991-1993); St. Martha, Valinda (1993-1999); and St. Joseph the Worker, Canoga Park (1991-2001). In 2001, he served as Administrator Pro Tem of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, CA, until his appointment as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, in 2002, which lasted 12 years. His term as Associate Director of Pastoral Field Education at St. John’s Seminary began in July 2014.

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