Scarvey column: Seeing with new eyes
Some people will probably read about Liz Wurster’s adventures and think, wow, I couldn’t just take off and live like a vagabond ó here or in South America. I’m not sure I could either, but hearing about it still makes me envious.
I haven’t traveled as extensively as Liz, but I have had some great travel experiences, most notably seven months spent in Italy while I was in college.
G.K. Chesterton once wrote: “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”
Traveling well allows us to see our own countries, towns, neighborhoods, with fresh eyes. It enables us to see a bigger picture, to recalibrate our perspective.
Negotiating life on foreign soil also cultivates self-sufficiency and flexibility. Reading Liz’s blog, I was struck by how calmly she dealt with things that would have most of us screaming for the next plane ó like the ominous Mancora eye disease ó gotten from ingesting fly-specked food ó which gave her so much pain that for a while she could only look straight ahead.
Traveling helps us see things about our own culture that are less than perfect but also opens our eyes to what is wonderfully right about our own homeland.
I loved my time in Italy, but waiting for a package to make its way through the medieval postal system there was like waiting for Godot. God bless the USPS.
As I learned about Liz’s South American adventures, I was reminded that a South American member of my own household is nearing the end of her North American adventure.
Since January, we’ve shared our home with a Brazilian exchange student named Nicoli. We’re her second host family ó her first family, unfortunately, fell victim to the bad economy and could no longer accommodate her. We were acquainted with Nicoli because of her friendship with our daughter, and we were happy to have her finish the school year with us.
She’s gotten used to the rhythm of life with the Scarvey family, as jerky and quirky as it often is. I’m not sure we’re the typical American family, but then again, I’m not sure one exists.
She’s been to a high school prom. Swing danced. Rooted for Kris on American Idol. Sat through Methodist sermons. Got excited about President Obama. Embraced dollar movies from Redbox. Made straight As.
She’s gotten used to our food habits: Mexican on Wednesday, cheap subs on Friday, cooking at home most days, peanut butter and honey sandwiches every day for school lunch. And she now understands, like all Scarveys, that it’s next to impossible to go to bed without a little ice cream.
Her most quintessential American experience was probably winning a T-shirt doing pull-ups for the Marines at the Barbecue Festival in Lexington.
When she returns to Brazil in a few weeks I’ll miss her, miss her sweet spirit, her willing hands in the kitchen, her voice on the phone speaking the crazy-sounding language that is Portuguese.
I hope that on her return she will feel like she is setting foot on her own country as a foreign land, that her perspective will be broadened, and that if someone there slams the U.S., she’ll say, “Yes, but there is this town, Salisbury, and this family, the Scarveys, and they were very nice.”
Because that’s what we’ll be saying about the Brazilian teenager who used to live with us. Contact Katie Scarvey at email@example.com.