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Why we travel

| Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The day before I left for Ireland for the year, I walked down the street to my local bank. For the second time in as many years, I was informing them that I would be travelling for an extended period, so it wasn’t a case of identity theft when I used my debit card to make purchases on the other side of the world.

This required only a few minutes and a little bit of paperwork, but during the course of my interaction with the personal banker, a delightful woman named Beth, it truly hit me for the first time that I was moving across an ocean for a full year.

Beth asked where and for how long I would be travelling, and when I told her I would be spending a full year in Ireland, she reacted the same way as nearly everyone I told about my move.

“Oh my goodness, that’s so wonderful,” she told me, eyebrows raised in excitement and smile expanding across her face. “It’s just so great that so many young people want to travel,” she said.

I smiled and nodded politely and agreed that it’s nice how many of my peers have spent at least some time abroad. But by the time I left the bank, I came to fully realize that I wasn’t just leaving for a cookie cutter study abroad semester. I was actually moving somewhere else. For a year of my life, my home would be in a different country.

And now that I’ve been here a few weeks, I’ve thought quite a bit about travel and why we do it and why it’s important. The last thing I want is for this column to be a tragically cliched “OMG, study abroad changed my life” column, but I do want to articulate, from my own perspective, why we (and by we, I specifically mean young people) travel.

According to a survey conducted by youth travel service Topdeck Travel, 88 percent of people aged 18-30 traveled overseas one to three times a year. And when we travel, we want genuine cultural experience — 86 percent of the 31,000 survey respondents said experiencing a new culture is a main factor motivating them to travel.

So, some numbers seem to tell us that we travel to immerse ourselves in the unfamiliar. My own experience tells me this is true, but also just the tip of the iceberg. The longing to experience a different culture drove me to study abroad in Dublin in the spring of 2015. But what brought me back this year was a desire to deepen my ties with an adopted homeland, for when it comes down to our core motivations, I think we travel to find a home.

In T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding,” the fourth and final poem of his “Four Quartets,” he wrote: “We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.” I think the “place” to which Eliot refers is a home, however you might define it.

And though the poem was originally published in 1942, I think the “place” today could be our entire planet. The world is a stunningly small place if you make it so, and on a macro level, it is one of the few things all people have in common — a shared home.

We travel to different corners and crevices of our shared home for lots of little reasons: to visit friends and family, to escape the mundanity of our routine, to see and experience things we otherwise wouldn’t, to relax. But all these little reasons, and more, are pieces of the big reason I think our generation wants to travel. I am, admittedly, rather irrationally optimistic about our generation, but I think the more we see of the world, the more we can improve it.
The internet has made the world a smaller place. Airplanes have, too. We’re the first generation to grow up with both. Perhaps, then, we travel to more deeply understand the world and the people who inhabit it, including ourselves. And maybe, at the end of our exploration, we will come to truly know the world as our home.

Jack Rooney is a 2016 Notre Dame graduate, and The Observer’s former managing editor. He is currently spending a year living and working for the University in Ireland, and writes these columns to keep him busy and satisfy his need for journalism. Follow Jack on Twitter @RooneyReports and/or email him at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Jack Rooney

Jack is a 2016 graduate of Notre Dame, and The Observer's former managing editor. He is currently spending a year living and working for the University in Ireland, and writing columns to keep him busy. For more random thoughts and plenty of news links, follow Jack on Twitter @RooneyReports.

Contact Jack