My friend Teynae asked me via text message, “How are you immersing yourselves?” Again, my astute friend nailed what has been perplexing me since the minute we left the states.
Having been a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras in the early 90s, I know exactly what it is to be immersed in a county, and that is most decidedly not what we are experiencing on our tour of Europe. First, in Iceland, we rented a car. Now in mainland Europe we have a “Marshmallow on a Fiat Frame” as Jeff so sweetly calls our camper van. Both means of transportation have a way of closing us off from the world in which we travel. I describe it as merely floating across the surface. It’s not what I think of as immersion – we are tourists – but still engaged and learning about new cultures.
Immersion comes from open doors. Immersion happens when you live and work in a country or if you are invited by a “local” or somebody who knows somebody to experience something cultural that you would not likely experience in your own place.
I am intrigued by what I see happening on the website, “Couchsurfing.” Here people can look for that immersion experience. Initially, I believe the site started as a place where people could look for a local to host them for a day or two a day and provide a free place to sleep, but as folks started to connect, the boundaries of the site expanded. Now, if I am visiting a country or city and want to try to find a playdate for a young child, or a family to spend the day with, this is possible. I imagine that many travelers want more from their stay than just skimming the surface – sitting in a cafe, visiting the museums or joining a tour of some sort.
You’re probably thinking we should check out Couchsurfing, right?…Well, it’s not that easy. We three are a little on the social anxiety spectrum, so looking for and meeting locals seems like too much work. We anticipate an exhausting exchange that we may appreciate, but, from past experiences, assume will just be more work than it is worth. So, we resign ourselves to our tourist bubble because it works for us.
No, we are not experiencing the new cultures through which we travel to the level we did in the Peace Corps, but we do bring a level of understanding about immersion to this trip that helps us appreciate the experience. I appreciate the mental solitude, the ability to process the world around me on my own terms – I carry no judgements. We can see through the eyes of a place its values about class, economics, environment, racial attitudes, racial diversity and beauty.
Today I immersed myself into the doors of Budapest, then the architecture, then Max and his Kendama on the street.
The beauty of taking a child traveling is that people watch them, notice them and immerse with us. As we travelled the streets of Budapest, Max carried his Kendama and spun it, juggled it, and caught the ball on the peg in the average Kendama fashion. But, he is a trickster with this thing, and as he travelled, people noticed his wild spinning and amazing catches.
Through much of this trip, I have travelled behind Jeff and Max as they walk side by side leading the way, and in this place, I can observe them being observed.
As Max walks, other teens check him out with sly secret glances his way, but when he has the Kedama, he becomes a spectacle for all. A group of ladies noticed him flipping something then turned back to look just as he landed the ball spinning wildly around his hand. They smiled at me, chatted amongst themselves and continued on their way. Immersion!
The world is getting smaller, for sure. I cannot uncover the idiosyncrasies of these places I travel without an enormous amount of time and understanding of the language, but I know the language of the world, and that helps me immerse and gain understanding. For now, I am happy to define myself as a tourist and accept it for all that it entails. There are A LOT more tourists here than I have ever seen anywhere in the States, so I feel quite comfortable now joining the crowds who are ushered along by those guiding and providing immersion.
I’ll leave the family stays and trail-blazing to the younger set!