Q: Do you live near where you were born? Have you traveled much?
A: While not quite antipodal, France is an ocean and the bulk of a continent away from my hometown in Western Canada. I suppose you could say that is far away—my parents certainly would. The more I travel, however, and the more places I live, the more “near” becomes a relative term.
I spent a lot of my childhood wrapped up in the casual regionalism that a child uses to define who they are. To be Calgarian (my hometown) was to be not Edmontonian (our rival town), then I moved further and learned I was Albertan (the province of both cities). To be Canadian was to be not American. Then I moved to Europe and learned I was North American all along.
Of course, I changed too. I never feel more North American than when I am outside of the continent, and less North American than when I return to visit.
I have lived in eight cities across two continents, and intend to live in many more. I am excited to see how my worldview shifts with wherever I reside next.
I travel a lot, too. As much as I can. Mostly locally (local to wherever I am living at the time) but sometimes further afield. I feel like “being a tourist” is a skill, and one that I am getting better at with each voyage. I’ve learned what it is that I like to experience and see when I travel. There are a lot of tourist traps in the world, but sometimes tourist hotspots are must-sees for a reason. If you are ever in Istanbul, you should go and see the Hagia Sophia—it is absolutely amazing—but my core memories of Istanbul are from leaving the beaten path, getting lost, and getting to know the locals.
Of course, if you do travel, it is important to be respectful. Tourism can be damaging to a culture and a place. Especially when we treat someone else’s home as a commodity we are entitled to ‘because we paid’. When done right, however, travel is not just incredibly rewarding but also incredibly important. We need to meet people who think differently from ourselves, and experience different ways of living. A little cross-cultural awareness can go a long way towards solving many of the important problems of our world.
So, do I think of France as far from where I was born? No, not anymore. I did at first, when I first arrived and didn’t speak the language. When I didn’t know anyone and I just wanted to go back home. Now that I have gotten to know the people and learned to think a little more like a local, France is home. I wonder where home will be next.
Justen Russell’s story “Holding On”
in Metaphorosis Friday, 21 October 2022.
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