To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.
– Aldous Huxley
As a perpetual wanderer, I’ve learned to assume that no country is as bad as people think it is. In teacher’s college, in the context of teaching overseas, we referred to this as The CNN Effect. We see the worst of the worst on the news, and our realities become skewed. Without being exposed to local perceptions and experiences, we base opinions solely on the Western media perspectives and information.
I remember a friend telling me about her Mexican boyfriend’s family reacting when she told them she was from Michigan. It was much the same as her family and friends’ reactions when she told them she was going to Mexico. “Detroit!?! Isn’t there lots of violence there? Is it safe?” Her family was shocked at her decision to live and Mexico; his family was shocked that she lived in Michigan.
Many people could not believe I lived in Kuwait. Some don’t know where it is, some know exactly where it is, but most seem to group Kuwait in the “war zone” and “repressed women” categories. It’s not in a war zone. And it’s not as repressive as one might think.
As I continue to travel, I feel I am becoming naturally inclined to defending countries, even when it’s not necessary. I’ve begun to assume that people are wrong about a country and that I need to correct their misperceceptions. That’s partly my problem, partly theirs. But what is neither of our faults is that the most easily available “information” paints one very scary picture of places like Mexico and Kuwait.
I have much respect for the people who search beyond mainstream media, who look at all sources, ask questions, and come to a realistic understanding of the unknown. I accept that ignorance is a natural part of life, as we’re all constantly learning, but we must be curious and willing to become less ignorant. Otherwise we’re just blinded and possibly idiots.
Have you experienced this in your travels? What misperceptions have you corrected?