One of my favorite children’s books is The Story of Ferdinand the Bull. If you’re unfamiliar, it takes place in Spain when some men visit a farm in search of the biggest most fierce, most-best-at-everything bull for the bull fight. Ferdinand, the biggest, happens to be anything but fierce. In fact, he loves to just sniff the flowers. As the men watch Ferdinand, he sits down under his favorite tree amongst the flowers and a bee stings him causing him to fiercely kick, snort and buck; perfectly fitting the bull bill. The men are certain they have found the roughest toughest bull. The day of the bull fight, Ferdinand is clearly distraught until he smells the flowers in the hands of the spectators meant to shower the bull fighter post victory. Ferdinand shows no interest in the bull fighter; without a care, he sits down and begins to take in the aroma of the arena. The bull fighter himself is so upset that he cries for the loss of his chance to prove himself.
The men show us that we need to account for what surrounds an event rather than basing our impressions on a single moment. Had Ferdinand really been studied, his daily activity would have clearly shown the men that this ferocious behavior was completely out of the ordinary. Did Ferdinand kick and snort? Yes, but it wasn’t as it appeared – there was more to the story, much like travel. Like Ferdinand; people, places and cultures are all more complex than our social media profiles suggest. In travel, we realize this quickly when we see gorgeous marketing material for a study abroad program, a vacation resort or the like; then we weave through run-down towns to get to our “perfect” destination. A resort brochure rarely has pictures of neighboring properties, perhaps because they are the polar opposite of what a resort suggests. We cannot experience the lay of the land or culture which is intertwined unless we choose to mingle with locals. Think Disney’s Moana; the story of the land and being aware of its capabilities comes through learning the legends deeply rooted in the culture. It doesn’t have to be complex. Something as simple as visiting a grocery store is quite telling of a culture. A single grocery stop can show you staple foods, how people interact with one another, what kinds of industry are in the area and much more. Travel is meant to be enjoyed but also to provide a learning experience. Don’t be like the men in the book, get the real story through getting to know the people. The place and the culture create each other. Be like Ferdinand – don’t concern yourself with how you look but take the time to sniff the flowers.