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18 - Institutionalizing travel by Yulia Kenigson

Every European government should pass a law concerning a compulsory travelling program for every high-school student withing its territory. A compulsory travelling program could consist of backpacking or temporary residence in another country, whereby the more distant (geographically and/or culturally) the country, the more credit the student receives for it. The compulsory travelling program should not be shorter than 6 month (lets say up to a year) and should involve getting familiar with the local history and even more importantly, the local population. Similarly to the already existing student exchange programs the travelling student should be placed with a local family/families, so that the interaction with the local customs would be assured. At the end of the project the student would have to hand in a report of his/her travels, in which the local history and customs would have to be discussed. Additionally, the student would have to be able to draw parallels between the customs of his/her land of origin and the customs of the destination of his/her travels.

The idea behind this program is rather simple: coming face to face with other cultures and populations would broaden the views of the future generations. It would teach them that all humans have something in common, namely their humanity. Black, white, Asian or European are very much the same in their desires, wishes and dreams. Cultural and ethnic differences cease to exist when we are confronted with that which makes us all tick. What more, realizing that we all are the same could help preventing racism which often has its origin in ignorance. One fears that which one does not know, so that knowing could eliminate the potential fear and misunderstanding. I wouldn't wish to appear too idealistic, but I do believe that in the longer run such travelling programs could also solve political conflicts and prevent wars between countries. One does not want to fight a place where one has people dear to him. Imagine that a student who'd gone travelling while in school, assumes a political post and has to decide on important political issues concerning the relations between his country and the country where he'd resided. Had he not travelled to that country, his interests would only lay with his own people. But because he has memories of the other place and its residents, he is prepared to invest more time and effort in studying the issue from the point of view of the other nation. Consequently he's more motivated to try to reach an understanding.

Not only the international relations could be improved, but also the problematic immigration/integration issues in ones homeland. Europe is becoming more and more multicultural and it is very important that the customs and beliefs of the minority groups would be understood by the members of the ethnic majority. Having travelled to the place where a specific minority group comes from could give insight in the situation and the needs of that group in your own country. Not to mention that the European civilization has played a major and not always positive role in the fate of the non-Western world. When a Dutch student would travel Indonesia or an English India, he or she would be confronted with the influence his/her homeland has had on the local history. There are many lessons to be learned, many tragic incidents not to be repeated and many far-reaching consequences of those incidents that still give tone to the daily life in these places. It seems to me that there is no better way to realize that, than by having lived there and having experienced it first hand, rather than having read about it in the European school books.

As already mentioned, such compulsory travelling programs should be encouraged by the Europian governments by institutionalizing them and making them accessible to all. That means that programs such as these should be subsidized by the government, so that not only the privileged would be able to take part. Each government could also see fit to promote travelling to certain parts of the world above others, according to considerations such as acquaintance with the land of origin of a minority group. Consequently the Ministry of Education would carry out this decision by awarding the students travelling to that region more credit.