Posted by: Martin Fox | August 26, 2008

Travel as a common ground

One of our board members forwarded the following article my way. At first glance, I wasn’t really sure why she sent it. Well, that is until I read the title.

Hmm, adventure, opportunity, global friendships, “seeing the world through the eyes of others”, “expanding our horizons does not mean losing our culture”… Well, now you know why it hit the blog…

Peace Out – Martin Fox with The Center for Global Leadership and The Higher Road Initiative.

Preserving Travel as a Crucial Pathway to Common Ground

By Shamina de Gonzaga, as told to Joan Raymond

I BECAME a frequent flier while still in the womb. I actually think travel is part of my genetic makeup. My mother, while pregnant with me, traveled to places all over the globe. And when I was a young child, I traveled quite a bit visiting family and friends in Turkey and Mexico.

Even though I was a child, I remember how travel inspired a sense of adventure and opportunity. My fondest memories are about connecting with young children like myself who lived in different lands. And I loved learning from them and seeing the world through their eyes.

I have always been in awe of the ability to travel. I have young friends from all over the world. They tell me that travel changes their sense of national identity and opens them up to new facets of themselves. Expanding our identity does not mean losing our culture, but rather broadening our horizons.

When I was 14 years old, I became a non-governmental organization representative to the United Nations. I traveled to Paris and spoke at a school that housed orphans and young people whose parents could not care for them. Most of these students were children of North African immigrants. We were all the same age, but our life experiences were so different. Yet we managed to find a common ground.

But today, only 12 years later, travel is so very difficult. Restrictions and fear are the norm for the traveler, whether you are a pilgrim, a migrant looking for a new opportunity or a person in sales taking a trip for business.

Very soon we will be holding our conference, “Reaffirming Human Rights for All: The Universal Declaration at 60,” in Paris, which commemorates the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I find it so troubling that for some of our attendees, travel will be very difficult. I wonder who will be stopped by security. I wonder who will have difficulties with paperwork. I wonder who might have a hard time simply getting a flight.

When it comes to travel, I am often introspective and quiet. But I must admit that sometimes I am the person who talks to her seatmates. I do not like to pry, but if engaged in conversation I like to learn; “What matters to you?” I like to talk about the big issues. And I’ve had some great conversations about global warming, terrorism, the coming elections and human rights. Everyone has an opinion and it is great to hear their points of view, even if I may not agree with them.

I’ve also had the opportunity to get to know some amazing people. A few months ago on a flight home from France, I talked to a doctor who practices on the island of Réunion, which lies in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar. We talked about values and diversity and how the many different people who live on this island, such as the native-born Creole, the French, Indian and Asians, among others, revel in their differences, yet somehow manage to form a cohesive whole.

On another recent trip, I was talking to another doctor, a woman this time. I found out that she was traveling to New York to attend a conference focused on some of her groundbreaking research on thyroid function. This woman grew up in poverty, and was determined to bring her skills back to her childhood home.

I’m 26 years old, and I consider myself blessed to have traveled so many places and to have met so many interesting people. Sure, travel is tough. But despite the problems, travel still remains among the most powerful ways to learn about other cultures. And to remain hopeful about the future.


  1. Ms. de Gonzaga is indeed blessed to be as well traveled as she is, especially at such a young age. Unfortunately, many individuals may never have the opportunity to travel the globe as she has and I would hate to think this factor might cause them to despair their ability to “broaden their horizons”. Consider the following quote by Marcel Proust: “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes”. Whether we are traveling to a foreign land or getting our weekly groceries, we are surrounded by other individuals going about the business of life. Remarkably, each of them has a story. Granted, some stories might be more fascinating than others, but there will indeed be one. The question is whether you’re willing to receive it. If you are, you posess the very ability Ms. de Gonzaga spoke of in “expanding your identity” whether you’re in another country or your very own neighborhood. We all have the power.

  2. Thank you for the great comment and we agree with with you that travel is not required to broaden horizons. That stated, global travel is a great way to broaden understanding and respect for other cultures, allowing you to truly experience the culture through the five senses.

    In her interview, I think Shamina’s point is to reach out to others who are not like you and learn from them, whether it is on an international flight or in your local grocery store.

  3. Ms. deGonzaga is a young woman who shares your perspective, mf64lma. She expresses grave concern about the limited ability of others to travel as she has, and she worries about the effects this may have on global cohesion. In the context of an upcoming conference on international human rights, she knows that many others face barriers to travel – to this gathering or anywhere..

    It is the potential of travel to be common ground — and the limited ability of many to reach that common ground — that she understands remarkably well for a 26 year-old woman. In reading her comments and yours, what I take away is the sense that you are both on the same page. We all have a story, and we all have the power. Talk about common ground, that’s pretty cool.

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