by Ronnie Charrier
Now that we got your attention, I should tell you that it has always been our plan to leave the U.S., and that this article has almost nothing to do with Trump. Even if Bernie Sanders had become the next president of the United States we... well (thinking), actually... no, no, we still would have left. So please try and hold off on any of the type of really quite awful comments that were left on our Top 7 Countries To Move To If Donald Trump Becomes President article. And if you were one of those who did comment, seriously, you should probably talk to someone.
What I hope is that this article will serve as an update to where we're off to next, and more importantly, as a reminder to us and to anyone reading this that it is more important now than ever that we all try and keep an open mind, both at home and abroad, and understand that there are many who have a different set of values from our own.
This brings me to relativism. If you've never heard of the term before, it's basically a fancy way of saying that you should keep an open mind and be aware that how YOU see the world is not how EVERYONE ELSE necessarily sees the world. Truth, ideals, morals, values, and everything else that make up one's culture are unique and open to interpretation, and can change depending on who is experiencing them.
The opposite of this is idea is called ethnocentrism, which is the view that one particular ethnic group is somehow superior to all others. One of the main reasons that we believe so strongly in the power of travel is that it forces a person to question their ethnocentrism, which sadly, these days, is a word commonly associated with Americans. Traveling can open the mind to new ideas and different perspectives, and help us all to feel a little more compassion for one another; something we could all use a little more of.
I understand that keeping an open mind is often much easier to say than actually do. It's easy to be unbiased when you're in a comfortable setting, but even when the most experienced of travelers come face-to-face with challenges abroad, they tend to fall back on widely known stereotypes and overvalue their own culture.
Now, keeping an open mind doesn't mean that you have to abandon your own values and beliefs altogether, but rather that you should acknowledge that they are not inherently "better" than others. It was Clifton Fadiman, writer and critic, who so eloquently said that “when you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”
It's this quote that resonates with me now as we prepare for our move to Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia. Believe me, coming to that decision was not easy.
I like to think of us as being fairly unbiased when it comes to travel, but if I'm being completely truthful, our first reaction to moving to Saudi Arabia was "absolutely not" (the bare minimum research will give you an idea of why we felt that way). The public practice of any form of religion other than Islam is illegal. Women must wear a full length cloak (abaya) and a headscarf in all public places, and can be jailed if they don't. Women can't drive. Homosexual acts and adultery are illegal. Movie theaters are banned. So is bacon.
Needless to say we - my wife in particular - were less than enthusiastic.
But then I remembered some of the things my wife's friends and family said when they found out we were moving to Chicago. "Aren't you scared of getting shot?" "How will you survive it snowing there all the time?" "You seriously want to live in a country run by someone with clearly no experience?" (like I said... almost nothing to do with Trump). For the record, we've absolutely loved living in Chicago. Seriously, we've written like 5 articles on it (which you should definitely check out if you're visiting sometime). We got used to the cold, and we've never felt less safe than in any major city, but the preconceptions people held of this place had been pretty scary. And those preconceptions turned out to be wrong.
So then we started, cautiously, to talk about this opportunity more seriously. The place we would be working looked amazing. Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries with no tourism industry, so the only way to visit is to work there. Could we really pass that up? Shouldn't we try and be the type of travelers that we always ask others to be? Ever so slowly, we started getting pretty excited about this idea. Fast forward a few months and now we're neck deep in visa paperwork and researching where to find the best desert camping spots.
How will this experience change us? We honestly don't know. But it will. It always does.
As Bill Bryson, the noted humorist and travel writer, said: "I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”
There isn’t an exact science to absorbing other cultures into your own personal identity. You try and keep an open mind and challenge your own beliefs and biases when necessary: you try to accept that you know less than you thought. I've found that the more I've opened myself up to these experiences, the more forgiving and less judgmental I become.
We always remind ourselves that traveling around the world is a privilege; the least we can do is be good travelers and try to make the world a better place, since it has certainly made us better people.