When I visit a country for the first time, it is with a sense of discovery. It is easy to go to a place like Cuba or Iran or Morocco with a curious, open mind when you are completely unfamiliar with it. But sometimes it’s good to remind ourselves to bring that same attitude to travels within our own country.
In May, after our fascinating three-day AFAR Experiences in New Orleans, I told a friend of mine from Nola that I would like to see rural Louisiana, which I’d never visited. So that weekend we went to his girlfriend’s parents’ house on False River, northwest of Baton Rouge.
Our hosts were determined to show me a “rural Louisiana experience” complete with a crayfish and crab boil, and lots of beer, music, and stories. They kept asking, “Is this rural enough for you?” They were incredibly gracious hosts, and it struck me that although we had much in common (the English language, beer) in some ways, parts of their culture were as “foreign” to me as some I’d encountered overseas, and the experience was just as stimulating and fulfilling.
In June, I went back to Tulsa, where I was born and raised, for a high school reunion. I had some free time on Sunday morning and decided to go to services at the beautiful art deco Boston Avenue Methodist Church, about a mile from the house where I grew up. I’d never been to a Methodist church in my life, and I was curious.
There were probably 300 people there, and what really struck me was that when the services were over, eight separate people walked up and greeted me similarly: “Hello there! I don’t think I’ve seen you here before. Are you new to our church? Welcome! Where are you from? I love San Francisco. I sure hope you come back.” I can’t think of a place I go in San Francisco or New York where I get such friendly greetings.
Both experiences reminded me how fun and interesting it is to get out and discover parts of our own country that I haven’t experienced before, even in my hometown. That traveler’s sense of discovery and openness to new things and ideas is something we should carry with us when we walk out our front door.