When I came to Qatar in 2012, I knew I was sure to learn some new things. Being a person who likes to explore and travel I’m open to exploration of places and of myself. The funny thing about life and learning is that although learning is certain, what we learn is not so much so. Sometimes we may have a measure of control over our learning; when we sign up for a course or choose to read books on specific topics. The rest of the time, we are at the mercy of our experiences and those of others around us in relation to what and how we learn. This I guess, is part of the joy and mystery of life.
I am a self confessed learning addict. In 2018 I will guess that I consumed around 10 online courses, 40 plus books and more online content and documentaries than I could hope to number; all in a quest to learn more and improve myself. Being a teacher, I also get a chance to be immersed in learning most days. In truth, I love learning more than I love teaching and it’s the idea of unlocking a world of learning to students that really keeps me in teaching when it gets tough. In my work I focus on teaching kids to read, think and write. I’m passionate about teaching reading because I believe once a person can read, they can access the world of learning themselves. I guess this is why, in all periods of human history, even into the present day, keeping people illiterate is a most effective form of oppression; perhaps even a war strategy.
As an educator, I am occupied with discussions about what makes learning happen and how to maximise it as well as teaching and supporting learning all the time. I get ample opportunities to reflect and consider my own progress as a learner too. This is great for personal growth. Having a library on site, colleagues and friends (many also educators, fellow nomads explorers and life-long learners) who are always reading, exchanging and discussing books and other learning resources is also great for learning addicts like myself.
I’ve heard it said that traveling is the one thing that you spend money on that makes you richer. In my experiences, I’ve found it to be true. Of course if you travel with a closed mind, you will learn less but learn you will, even if it’s by force! Sometimes the only thing travelers learn when coming to places such as the Gulf countries are hard lessons about how differently things work in Islamic countries in comparison to the more “open” countries we left behind. That in itself can be learning for life! I’ve heard that finding yourself drunk and face to face with a police officer who only speaks aggressive commands in Arabic is far from fun in the sun!
Many travelers to the Middle East say that you also learn patience. It’s somewhat of a buzz word but it’s absolutely true! Even if you are already quite patient, traveling can help to take it to the next level. To say that things work at a much slower pace in the Arab world is like saying there’s a difference between being bitten by your pet hamster and the rottweiler next door! Across the Middle East it’s a regular thing to find yourself visiting the same office three times before actually getting the document you need. While you may be bubbling up a volcano inside, indignant at a system that has such blatant disregard for the value of your precious time, the clerk behind the desk will be calm as a cucumber. He or she will be moving at such a glacial pace. One you never imagined humanly possible for one working in a bus office that handles official documents. Those on which your very existence in the country depends. In time you learn that the Arabic word In shaa Allah meaning “If Allah wills” to many actually means “since everything is in the hands of God, there’s really no need for us to rush or fuss about a thing, we can just take it easy”. The difference between the sound of this and the reality of it are the huge lesson in patience many people who travel to this part of the world are using as the basis for their statement.
As well as lessons in patience, one of the most valuable things I have learned from my travels is the way the pace of life in many Western countries affects our well-being. For many years in the UK, although my levels of happiness and digestive system tried to tell me otherwise, I thought that it was normal to work 8 hour days 5 or 6 times per week with only 30 minute breaks for a quick sandwich. When I visited Spain and experienced of a 2-3 hour afternoon siesta it was a game changer. That trip was when I decided, I wouldn’t be living in the UK much longer. I saw options for living my life differently. I saw not only longer lunch breaks as an option, but that all areas of my life could be a closer match to me. Travel showed me that the only thing that really stood between me and the life I wanted was my choices. This is how travel does one of the other things people often say; it broadens your horizons. In my next post I will talk about how travel has affected my views and approach to spirituality and religion.