A friend of mine told me about her daughter's trip to France this summer. She had planned for months after she found out about the possibility of a homestay for three weeks with a family in the mid-south region of the country. She had studied French at her small high school for the previous three years and felt it would be an ideal way to put her nascent language skills to good use.
Obstacles arose in the planning process, not the least of which was the anxiety of traveling alone in a foreign country to a destination completely new to her, to live with a family she had never met before. Much more than her language skills would be tested. Yet, she continued on with the planning and ultimately left on her big adventure.
The travel to Belgium by plane and then to her temporary home in France by train went well and she arrived full of hope and some trepidation. Immediately, she was welcomed and began to settle in to the pace and life of her host family. The language barrier was noticed by all, not because she spoke poor French, but because her French was stilted and old-fashioned. Being only 17, her mind adapted and absorbed phrases and modern slang quickly.
Three weeks flew by. She was adopted and included in the life of a French family in one of the most beautiful areas of a lovely country. Before she knew it, our young traveler had to say good-bye and made her way all the way back home.
On arrival home, she was filled with stories of what she'd seen and heard, where she'd gone and who she'd met. It was another adustment period, a time of culture shock all over again, but this time it was because she was returning to her home with a change in her heart.
"What did you notice most while you were in France?" her family asked her.
"I saw how the family ate together every day at lunch. The son walked home from school, everyone stopped their work and they were together for an hour and a half every day. Life was much slower. There was never a meal in their house when there were not at least 8 or 10 people together. It could have been neighbors dropping by or other family members, but there were always people at meals together. Most of the time, they ate outdoors at a big table under the tree."
When she came back home with France fresh in her mind, she began to notice, almost for the first time, the pace of her family's life, how few meals were eaten together and how much her friends spent time alone, separate from one another. Her family has not owned a television for years, but even without the TV, unusual as that is, she noticed a hurried pace, social isolation and a greater intensity of talk and behavior during time when families were together.
This struck her, and it changed her. She was able to talk about it and in doing so gained a new wisdom about our society and choices she can make in her life to reflect the wisdom - the gift - she returned with that had transformed her.
This is a simple but true story that illustrates the positive effect not only of travel but ultimately of understanding that processing and sharing the meaning of preparation, travel and personal experience completes the journey. It would have been easy and light to welcome her home, look at her photographs and then plan another trip or go off to some other activity, but the family took time to listen to her experience of travel. They gave her an opportunity to reflect and witnessed her transformation, even if it was a personal internal one.
Any opportunity we can take to allow our family members and our friends to gain wisdom through their experiences and difficulties enriches us all as individuals and fosters personal as well as community transformation. Take the time (with the TV off) to listen to each other at the end of the day and at mealtimes. This is the Hero's Journey, a story we are all taking part in every day. You have the power to change your own story by doing something as simple and low-tech as listening, carefully. Bon voyage!
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way