Men, Travel, and Growth

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johnbrierparis1Men. They simply don’t go abroad to study as much as women do. Why is that? In a conversation with Mitch Gordon of Go Overseas (that innocently began with some feedback on one of their blog posts) we formed a partnership to tackle this question. We are cross blogging on the subject today, sharing perspectives of two different young men who have very specific points of view to share. Below is our own guest blogger, John Brier’s, philosophy on men and travel. Read it and then head over to GoOverseas’ post on Why Don’t Men Study Abroad? for another perspective. I certainly learned a LOT about men by reading these two extraordinary pieces (and after the initial shock of John’s first paragraph, I was wowed by his deep thoughts on the subject)! Enjoy them. Pass them around. Ask the men in your life questions about the subject – and please feel free to comment on each respective post. We’d certainly love to hear your a-ha moments!

My Lower Travel Hook-Up Story

johnbrierdangeraustraliaAnd then she undid my belt. She was Colombian, I’m American, and we had both just met in a bar in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Just remembering this, I feel excitement – the combination of joy and fear. I also feel embarrassed… With lips pursed I begin a grin and let out a muffled hehe. Now I’m shaking my head, because this was way, way beyond any PDA I’d ever experienced and still my biggest display, to this day. Moments before her hand maneuver, we began making out heavily. It was oh so heavenly, and it has yet to be repeated. Sorry previous partners, and good luck future ones. The things she did with her tongue, the places she maneuvered it, in, through, and to; mhmm sooooo sensual. Hehe, Oh my God so sensual. By the time she got her hand down my pants, my eyeballs were like dinner plates and I was looking around in excited horror. Hehe, I slowed her down just so I could catch up. As the staff hurriedly cleaned at the end of the night, they either didn’t notice or didn’t care. I think I thought this must be semi-normal down here. Reassured we weren’t going too far, I stopped worrying, and started enjoying being on the periphery of my comfort zone. Even if it was just a hook-up, it was a hook-up like I’d never allowed myself to experience before. I had to leave home just to create the opportunity of meeting this woman, and because she was aggressively leading me, I had to let go of comfort at every step of the way. In the end, it made me feel alive, and I think, I grew because of it. But every hook-up is not necessarily a growth guarantee. You have to at least go beyond what you know, and the more you know about yourself and the world, and where you are on your journey both within and without, the more likely you’ll grow, and recognize it when you do. As a man, I travel because I value growth, and I see travel as one of many ways to grow.

My Travel Philosophy, My Life Philosophy, My Masculine Philosophy

johnbriercopenhagen1I must admit that I started this article as a response to The 5 Manliest Cities for Study Abroad, which rated the favor-ability of cities for “manly” men partly based on bars and sports. Many might think this plays up male stereotypes and I wanted to make the case that men can travel for “higher” reasons like increasing self-awareness and awareness of the world, too. At the same time I didn’t want to leave behind any man, including myself, which is why I started with my “lower” travel hook-up story. I only recently had my first long-term-relationship, and three years ago when I was in Buenos Aires, hooking up was a big deal for me. Like I grew from hooking-up in a foreign country, other men can grow from partying or seeing sports overseas. It’s also important, according to the philosopher Ken Wilber, not to ignore our “lower” ways just because we’ve found new, “higher” ways. Instead we should “transcend and include.”  For instance, just because you’ve graduated to enjoying art on a spiritual level, doesn’t mean you should no longer enjoy sports on an emotional level. Ignoring the emotional, or any part of yourself, is repression, or a breaking off of the self, which creates neuroses that can sabotage any recent growth, no matter how transcendent, and no matter how unrelated. We must honor all reasons for travel, and all ways to grow, wherever they fit along the unruly path of life.

Ideally, a man should be aware of where he is on his growth journey and direct his life towards developing maturity, but more often than not, and especially in the beginning, maturity and growth happen accidentally and aren’t recognized as such until after the fact. At the least though, a man should be consciously simmering on the ideals of growth and maturity so they can deeply seep into his subconscious, because here, in the place that directs without consult, we can instill our conscious desires, and they will often play out without our constant worry. I think it’s also important to have ideals, goals – maybe even a purpose – because sometimes I gain just as much from thinking about how new experiences fit within those life-organizing-structures, as I do from just living them – from remembering where I was before, how I felt during, and how I felt after the experience. When I’m always paying attention, trying to understand, and analyzing and comparing my situation with the life lessons others have shared, I can see how that knowledge stacks up with my own, and extract my wisdom from the total experience.

For example, in the U.S. there is a stereotype that Latina women are hyper-sexual. I have to consider how this stereotype affected both my perception and recollection of the Buenos Aires PDA event. Was this Colombian woman really that good of a kisser or was my judgement affected? And was my participation or reporting of it perpetuating the stereotype, and/or the expected role of Latinas, as described by Courtney Perales?

We are seen as these sensual creatures, ready for courtship with any man who is willing [to] embark on an enticing journey to the unknown. Once these modern conquistadors have had their fill and satisfy their curiosities though, we are thrown to the side and subsequently devalued and disregarded as having fulfilled our purpose of submitting to their male domination.

johnbrieritaly1I hope that’s not me. But even if it isn’t, say because she led me (which she did in many ways), I have to question her motivations. Was she just looking for a tourist to have a good time with or was she putting on a sexual charade in order to couple up, to gain some of the power only men have access to? Due to the history of Western civilization we men hold more leadership positions and power than women, and for better or worse, we continue to wield that power.

Like many things in life it’s probably not an ‘either/or’ situation; it’s probably an ‘and’ situation. We both probably wanted to have a good time, and it would be impossible for either of us to be unaffected by hundreds and thousands of years of historical sexual politics. The point for me as a man, whether travelling or not, is that I need to make some kind of effort to be aware of what’s affecting me, and how I’m affecting others, because if I’m not, my combined power and ignorance will likely cause great harm. Regardless of how gender-power-dynamics should be equalized or changed in the future, today, with my higher access to power, I have to exercise more responsibility, and so do all men. In fact, because our actions at home are more likely to affect those abroad due to our increased and unequal leadership opportunities, one could argue that men have to travel: Men that have the ability to travel, should be obligated to, to familiarize them with a world they must know, in order to inhibit their potential for ignorant destruction of the world they will inevitably affect. We can extend this obligation to American women too, because, as a country, we unsustainably and disproportionately consume world resources, and seeing this difference with our own eyes can do a lot to dissuade us from maintaining it.

More Travel Experiences

My Biggest Little Trip

This past February I travelled from my home in Raleigh, North Carolina, to New York, a city I had been to at least six times before, and despite having travelled all over Europe, to South America, and even all the way to Australia, this little trip by train, was my biggest trip yet. It was the first major travelling experience I initiated, planned and executed all on my own.

johnbrierplaneIn 2008, I had my travel-bubble abruptly popped by the knife of my friend’s perfectly sharpened travel experience. He expertly organized a whirlwind European tour. After a sunrise-landing in London, and a short tour of that UK city, we were off to Paris the next morning. For a few days each, we went to Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen, and Stockholm. Six cities in two weeks. It was tiring even for my friend’s high-energy personality, and consequently, we both ended up deflated. From my humble travel-bubble beginnings I developed my own travel-knife. Though mostly dull, it achieved a slight sharpening, and like anything that’s grown, once it’s known, all it wants, is more.

More is what it got in 2009, when I flew the eighteen required hours to Brisbane, Australia, where my company invited me to participate in a cross-geographic work exchange. Skipping a year of overseas flights, in 2011, my friend let me tag along with him in Argentina. His expatriate friend had an apartment in Buenos Aires and I was welcome to stay, so I went. A year later, In 2013, my then-girlfriend spearheaded the organization of an Italy trip with stops in Rome, Florence, and Venice. My only contribution was paying for my share of the transportation and lodging.

johnbrieraustralia1My New York trip meant a lot to me, but I’m beginning to realize it wasn’t just because I was no longer following. It was also because I was no longer sacrificing myself for others. I thought that was something I just did in my first relationship, but it wasn’t. How could I say yes to nearly every destination my friend suggested on my first European trip? Did I have no preferences? I wasn’t just “laid back” as I allowed my friends to describe me. I was submissive. By leading, I’m more likely to share my desires and opinions, because as a leader, I have to share ideas, even if they aren’t mine. As a follower, I don’t have to do that. I can just say yes to whatever ideas the leader presents. For once I had only myself to report to, and even if no one was following me, I was getting practice in figuring out what I actually wanted. To be fair, it’s also true that a follower doesn’t necessarily sacrifice his desires just because he’s following, he can say yes or no, and say why, but I rarely said no, and I hardly knew why. Even though I had travelled “big” all over the world, this domestic travel was bigger. Never before had I been the impetus, the creator, and the executor of the plan. This time I was everything, and in its fruitful execution, I grew, I matured, and I became more of a man.

Going Global

The psychedelic explorer Terence McKenna says, second to psychedelics, “travel is the most boundary dissolving educational enterprise […] you can get mixed up in.” This connection beyond borders, physical or otherwise, is what Ken Wilber calls “going global.” It’s a stage in our development where we move out of egocentric (self-focused), and ethnocentric (culture-focused) thinking, and start thinking of ourselves as members of a world community.

Ironically, I got a dose of it in May 2006, before I’d ever travelled outside the United States. While sitting at home in front of my computer, I had been repeatedly listening to the livesegment of a radio show from one of my favorite techno DJs, Carl Cox. It was recorded in Beirut, Lebanon, which at the time, seemed unimportant. A couple months later though, after the eruption of violent fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and especially with Beirut being bombed, its significance exponentially increased. My mind went global: Carl Cox was a DJ I saw in my own home state, who recently played in this Middle Eastern city, now beholden to war. It made me think, one, I could have theoretically been there dancing to Carl Cox, and two, because of the war, neither I nor he could or should go there now. It wasn’t safe for either of us and it made me think about the Lebanese partiers still there. I could have shared happy smiles and good vibes with them, perhaps even becoming longtime friends. And these potential friends of mine, they were definitely not safe, and in a less definite way, I was not safe.

Today, after having already connected the dots between global human suffering and its correlation to my own possible suffering, and after having travelled the world, I re-experience my nascent global-awareness with even more profundity. I am not merely a dude in search of auditory and rhythmic stimulation, or not just a consumer of throwaway postcard vacations; I am a member of untold global communities connected in ways I can’t fully imagine. On one hand that’s frightening because my naiveté is shattered: that I only need to pay attention to what’s outside my window to protect myself. On the other hand it’s empowering because I can affect anything, from what’s outside my apartment window, to what’s outside any airplane window. The world which affects me, I can influence.

Interestingly, Carl Cox’s radio show is called Global. And the live segment which introduced me to Beirut? Well, it’s called, “Going Global.”

johnbrierheadshot2About the Author: John Brier is a psycho-spiritual philosopher. After six years of burying himself in computers professionally, and many more before that, one year ago he quit his IT job and never looked back. Today he examines and questions himself in order to raise his consciousness. He shares his experience through writing in hopes of inspiring others to do the same. Subscribe to his newsletter, or follow him on Twitter to find out about his next essay.

Note:  All photos courtesy of John Brier.

 

  • Lindsay

    Really great insight! And definitely could help promote study abroad to the men! I personally have two good male friends who decided not to study abroad, one because he didn’t want to leave his girlfriend (and his parents were offering to pay for the whole semester!) and another who just didn’t want to miss out on campus events and friends (though he had always planned on studying in London). I always felt sorry for those two for missing out! Neither have traveled much since and I wonder how their lives might be different if they had studied abroad.

    • John Brier

      Thanks for reading and appreciating, Lindsay. I think Missy is right about this standard “fear of missing out,” and Jason, in his blog, pointed out similar responses like “It’s not for me” and “I have other priorities,” which he described as excuses, basically.

      I think the trick in getting people to really consider travelling is in not shaming them for their fear while also keeping them curious as to why they (seemingly) dismiss it outright. Eventually they will find either maybe it’s not a bad idea, or maybe there is a real reason they can’t/shouldn’t do it!

      That can be a hard trick to pull off, though, because often times when we’re trying to convince others as to why they should do something, we’re really just projecting our own desires or judgements onto them.

  • Yes, standard “fear of missing out” – and as you know Lindsay – anyone who goes abroad quickly realizes that they’ve been missing out on a world of experiences while they were worried about missing a football game or significant other at home. So many important lessons in going abroad…

  • Katy Rosenbaum

    I had never thought of the dichotomy of “lower” and “higher” travel. I think it’s an interesting and important framework. It feels as if it is also tied in with the idea of authenticity– that both lower and higher level travel are equally authentic and only together does one get a more comprehensive glimpse of culture!

    • John Brier

      Thanks for your feedback Katy. I think authenticity definitely ties into this idea. Even if it is possible to be authentically “higher only,’ say on a spiritual level, it would be incredibly difficult to do so without repressing some “lower tendencies.” Therefore I think it’s best to not quickly ignore those lower aspects of ourselves and in fact maybe hold onto them for longer than we think we need them, so that we can be authentically certain of our higher spiritual attainment.

  • Kyle Spears Rausch

    Well, I’m certainly glad to see a response to the GoOverseas’s post ‘The 5 Manliest Cities to Study Abroad,’ even if I think the opening scene of this particular piece does nothing to improve the image of study abroad in academic realms, which is a critique I held of the former piece. Nevertheless, it is honest and certainly will connect to another population of men and introduces the dichotomy of ‘higher’ and ‘lesser’ travel that many in the field hold.

    My biggest problem with the 5 Manliest Cities post is perhaps that it does what I think many of us would hope informed travel should combat: it reinforces stereotypes. As a gay male, I certainly do not agree with most of that post as being reasons for why men should/would choose one particular city over another, and I don’t think of myself as any less being a man for thinking that way. Rather, we need more posts from men who have studied abroad to showcase the wide spectrum of reasons for and benefits of studying abroad.

    Thanks for sharing your own stories that hopefully will inspire others to pursue an international experience rather than trying to perpetuate an overtly sexist/heteronormative worldview–I hope other men will share stories of their reasons for and lessons learned from study abroad to show men of all backgrounds why it is important to get out there and see the world.