“Imagine with me if the one billion people who travel internationally every year travel like this, not being taken in the bus from one side to another, from one hotel to another, taking pictures from the windows of their buses of people and cultures, but actually connecting with people.”
– Aziz Abu Sarah, TedTalk, March 2014
In a 2014 TedTalk, Palestinian activist Aziz Abu Sarah told the story of how he once harbored hatred and anger towards Israelis for their involvement in the death of his older brother. His anger began to dissipate, however, after he enrolled in a Hebrew class and for the first time in his life interacted with Jews on a personal level, one on one and away from the war zone. That was when he experienced first hand how much he and the Isralis had in common. They bonded over their shared interests and little by little Aziz Abu Sarah’s long held wall of resentment began to crumble.
Aziz Abu Sarah is now on a mission to help break down the barriers that exist between cultures by advocating for international travel and tourism. He says in his talk: “Tourism is the best sustainable way to bring down those walls and to create a sustainable way of connecting with each other and creating friendships.”
Research supports his idea. Studies have found that traveling makes people less prejudice. Travel also has been shown to make people nicer, more empathetic and open-minded.
Is travel the answer?
It seems so simple. Can travel really be the answer to the world’s problems? I think it can. I think travel can bring about lasting world peace so long as the travel is the kind that facilitates cross-culture interaction. While there’s nothing wrong with vacations spent lounging on a hammock on the beach, I believe the world would be a better place if more of us participated in homestay programs in high school and study abroad programs in college. We’d all benefit if we couch surfed more, encouraged kids to learn foreign languages and spent more time exploring our world and less time watching other people do the exploring for us on TV.
Not too long ago, I listened to a report on NPR about racism. They interviewed a scientist who had been studying how to rid people of their prejudiced beliefs. Surprisingly, his research found that when it comes to deep-rooted racist opinions, facts and statistics have little affect. You can present a bigot with statistics and scientific facts that disputes their beliefs all day long and you’ll never change their mind. The only thing that has a chance of altering their opinions, according to research, is exposure and personal experience. Apparently, if you can have the bigot interact with and befriend the very people he or she claims to despise, you’ll have a shot at disrupting their warped viewpoints.
Perhaps it’s incredibly naive to think that travel holds all the answers to the worlds’ problems. There are likely people who are so crazy and hate filled that no amount of life-enhancing cultural experiences will help—Terrorists are a good example of that. But I think it’s a good place to start.
What about you? What do you think?