You Are Where You Go
By Caitlyn Lubas
Reviewed by Hank Bitten
A Traveler’s Coming of Age Journey through 70 Countries and 7 Continents During College
My first visit, at age ten, to the Rivoli Theatre on Main Street in Paterson was to see the Jules Vernes movie Around the World in 80 Days. My knowledge of the world at age ten was limited to a globe, map of the world, and pictures in Life magazine. In 1957, travel was still mostly by propeller powered airplanes. The turbulence made travel by air bumpy, there were frequent fueling stops, and pressurized cabins were just being installed.
The movie opened my eyes to places in Africa, Asia, and South America that were new to me. The scenes of the physical geography of place were amazing and my exposure to culture motivated me to study anthropology years later at N.Y.U. The book, All I Really Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum is another reminder of the influence of teachers and their lessons. When we engage students in thinking, we are nurturing more than historical content, disciplinary concepts, or skill sets. When students think about what they are learning, the brain redirects knowledge from their eyes to their hearts. This is how visual memory deepens and changes lives.
Caitlyn Lubas was my student and took my class on the Global Economy at Indian Hills High School. The wisdom and insights in her book, is a reminder of the influence that teachers have in the lessons they teach – especially in social studies.
“Before travel, my worldview was like an old radio tuned into a channel that was only producing static-uninformed and lacking any key message. Each unique experience abroad allowed me to tune into a clearer signal of what the world is really like-dynamic, vibrant, and enlightening.” (page 5)
Caitlyn’s experience at New York University was transformative. As a high school student Caitlyn communicated with other teenagers from a variety of countries developing an international network of social capital. Through social media, video channels, and books, she was able to talk with different people about culture, issues, family, and school. In high school, we traveled to Europe and provided opportunities for meeting students from Japan, Germany, and Denmark in our study of global business, the environment, and human rights. In the first chapter of her book, she provides tips on how to make a decision that prioritizes travel as a tutorial for the academic literacy needed for every 21st century student. The globalization of education has become an essential component of academic literacy in understanding the common values and experiences we share, the relationship between the individual and the state, and our responsibility to protect our planet. As I was reading Caitlyn’s book, I was reminded that I have students working on six continents (Denmark, Uganda, Ukraine, Switzerland, Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Israel, etc.) and others who talk with people in other countries every day. Caitlyn’s book has relevance because it provides a cultural and visible connection to places and people.
I was able to identify with her personal stories about her visits to many places in Europe, although I found some of her insights and information to be new and interesting. Her chapter on Vietnam, Laos, Japan, and Singapore offered unique perspectives to me regarding her leg injury in Vietnam, cubicle hostel with pod beds in Japan, self-discovery of people and scenery in Laos, and uncomfortable encounters of a young Asian girl having dinner with an older man in Singapore, even though the man was her father. I learned about new perspectives of culture, traveling in inclement weather, coping with Google translator, and navigating the Mekong River. Teachers should be reminded that their teaching of geography involves more than place or name recognition as holidays, street culture, food, beliefs, and gender roles are equally important. When traveling inside another culture, our behaviors and attitudes are observable.Caitlyn discovered that she was the outsider.
This was very evident in the chapter on the Middle East and her experiences in Jordan, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi. I remember when New York University developed this global education program and what I learned from Professor of History David L. Lewis as the program was evolving and taking shape in 2008-10. The unique experience of NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Singapore is how students experienced the diversity of a global community. I had two students graduate from this academic opportunity. When Caitlyn stepped off the plane and entered one of the most luxurious and spacious airport terminals on the planet, she sat alone in a taxi in shorts and quickly stood out in an environment of long garments and face coverings.
In my high school Global Issues class, we partnered with Keio Academy in Purchase, NY for an overnight stay in a dormitory based Japanese high school. We attended classes in Japanese, played Japanese style dodge ball, and discussed international issues. For my Bergen County students, this was their first experience immersed in a new culture and paired with a student they had only been introduced to through emails and letters. Caitlyn was my student and experienced this as a freshman. Now, at NYU, her roommates were from three different countries and cultures. However, they shared a common interest in travel and adventure.
I learned more in this chapter on the Middle East about how our eyes communicate messages to our brains than in the other chapters. Reading about Caitlyn’s observations of her independence in New York City with her new understanding of how young girls in Abu Dhabi and the Middle East feel liberated as their long garments conceal their sexuality and feminism from public observation and comment.
I also learned that the familiar TV monitor on the back of the seat on the airplane includes an arrow pointing to the east for Islamic prayers during the day. Her experiences with food, visiting a Bedouin community, the demographic diversity of Dubai and other cities, and the inaccuracy of the stereotypes portrayed in the American media and classrooms are valuable lessons for everyone who reads her book. The familiar phrase of the book, All I Really Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten, might be rephrased by “All I Really Need to Know about People, I Learned in My Global Classroom in College.”
The chapter on Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, and Malawi) gives the reader a perspective of time and place by returning to the Bronze Age or perhaps the last century of the Neolithic Age. This is the birth of civilization and we are taken back in time to life on the safari before asphalt roads and power lines. This is the world of the Maasai, the open sky of the Serengeti plains, and swarms of insects. It is a place without Wi-Fi connectivity, stocked shelves of supermarkets, and the traffic on urban highways and city streets. In our teaching of geography we neglect, or intentionally avoid, the experiences of millions of people who have no experience with flush toilets, access to hot water for washing hands or drinking from a faucet. It is worth the read because it is from the perspective of a youthful college student!
If your time is limited to reading only one chapter, it would have to be Caitlyn’s experience of traveling across the Drake Passage to Antarctica for a camping trip, without the campfires. The journey begins shortly after the December solstice when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. Her experience of being immersed in total sunshine with brilliant images on the white snow and icebergs. However, it is the challenges of protecting the environment without leaving any human or carbon footprints, digging ditches to make a bed for protection against the fiercest winds and coldest temperatures on the planet, and learning how to excrete bodily fluids and solids during a blizzard. Antarctica is a beautiful landscape of white and perhaps the only place on the planet where the sounds of silence are heard…or not heard.
The book is readable for middle and high school students and adults. It is her personal reflection about life, traveling alone, and experiencing culture and the harshness of geography. Teachers who value perspectives will want to include Caitlyn’s!