The Great Global Bazaar

Traveling to new places – near or far – can help cultivate the ability to form meaningful connections with people of different backgrounds. The most interesting lessons often lie in the mundane – the aspects of everyday life that locals take for granted and tourists tend to overlook.

NEW YORK – I have had the same apartment in New York City for almost 40 years but have actually lived in it for less than half of that time, owing to a busy travel schedule. I enjoy it; my experiences abroad have taught me the importance of an open mind and have given me a willingness to wander off the beaten path – not only to keep life interesting, but also to understand in a meaningful way that things do not look the same from every vantage point.

The most interesting lessons often lie in the mundane – those aspects of everyday life that locals take for granted and tourists tend to overlook. For example, at my Western hotel in South Korea there was a pictogram alongside the toilet explaining how to use it properly – that is, to sit on the seat, rather than crouching over the bowl, as one would on a traditional South Korean toilet.

In 1989, during a trip to Estonia – then still a part of the Soviet Union – I asked my interpreter, a moonlighting dentist, to take me to her dental clinic. Beyond getting a glimpse of the equipment – old and sickly green – I learned that my interpreter and her colleagues were augmenting their state salaries with direct (and much higher) payments from Finnish dental tourists. When they had saved enough money, they explained, they would purchase new equipment and launch their own practice.

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