When we talk about travelling and enriching oneself, we have to mention The Grand Tour, which was once very popular among the European aristocrats.
The Grand Tour was taken by European and British young men from aristocratic families. It usually started from France, then extended to Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Greece and other European countries. In the 17th and 18th centuries, when a horse was still the main form of transportation, this kind of grand tour sometimes lasted 2-3 years, or even longer.
These grand tours required much financial support, but European families were willing to pay the high price because they strongly believed that this tour was a necessary part of their children’s education. They sent them off to Paris to experience its elegance, to Athens to learn its history, and to Rome to absorb their civilisation. The ultimate purpose for sponsoring these trips was to widen their children’s vision. They would not only establish a meaningful connection with other powerful families during the trip, but also learn different languages of the countries that they visited to explore the various culture in-depth and cultivate a basic aesthetic sense.
The Grand Tour was particular popular among the English aristocrats in the eighteenth century and many made detailed records of it. The tradition was only stopped in the late eighteenth century by the outbreak of the Napoleonic wars. Nonetheless, its spirit remains until now. Nowadays, Western culture still views experiential learning as one of the most effective, most in-depth ways of acquiring knowledge.
In fact, using travelling as a method to widen one’s vision and inspire one’s creativity was not created during the period of The Grand Tour. As early as 1615, renowned British philosopher Francis Bacon mentioned in his essay that travelling with educational purposes is essential for ambitious young people who want a place in society.
Famous biologist Darwin was also heavily influenced by his own maritime journey: Darwin followed Captain Robert FitzRoy and took a world tour on The Beagle. The novel events and places that Darwin saw during the journey surprised and confused him. He recorded his observations of different species and fossils in detail. After years and years of careful consideration, he was able to come up with The Origin of Species and evolution theory that revolutionised the world. And all these were inspired by his journey on The Beagle.
Deeply influenced by Western educational philosophies, the founding couple of New Chapters also believe deeply in inspiring leadership and innovation through in-depth travelling. This is why they left their successful careers and created New Chapters in 2013: they wished to use their unique resources in the UK to provide Chinese clients with the most exclusive, memorable cultural experience programmes. Their own diversified experiences have also contributed greatly to their personal growth. To better explain their beliefs, they gave the following answers to the following three related questions:
Has learning different culture had any effects on your personal growth?
Esther: I think learning about different cultures enriches me as a person. It makes me more open-minded, stimulates thought and ultimately helps me understand better where other people are coming from.
Simon: Travelling and exploring cultures has shaped my whole life and personality. I grew up in different parts of England, the USA and Germany. I was therefore exposed to a variety of different cultures which gave me a broader and more open perspective on the world. I am sure that this gave me an interest in different countries and cultures which led me to make certain choices in my education and career. As a result, I have always worked internationally. My career has largely been focussed on aligning people in different cultures to work effectively together to a common goal, implementing common solutions when their starting point is often how different they are.
My international background has led to my interests being in broad cultural areas – art, design, architecture, literature, history, the natural world, food and wine – all areas where travel enables one to explore and gain more knowledge through experience.
Is travelling really a good way to learn different culture?
Esther: There’s a great Einstein quote which says that ‘the only source of knowledge is experience’. I wholeheartedly believe that if you really want to understand and absorb something, then doing it and experiencing it first-hand is the only way. That’s why travelling is so wonderful and exciting. It takes us outside our day-to-day lives and provides new perspectives and fresh thinking.
Simon: Let’s be clear what we are talking about when one says“culture”. To me it means…………
CULTURE = HOW A GROUP OF PEOPLE GOES ABOUT TACKLING A PROBLEM
Different groups of people tackle problems in different ways because they think differently, they have different values and beliefs. Culture does not just relate to nationalities.
Different companies, institutions, religions, tribes, occupations and families can have widely different cultures.
Travelling exposes people to new experiences and other people’s ways of life. Gaining this exposure first-hand, rather than through another medium, gives us the opportunity to see the world from a variety of perspectives and therefore potentially to gain a more complete understanding of the world.
If one’s life involves working with other nationalities, an increasingly critical requirement in modern society, particularly in business, then understanding how those other societies operate is crucial to working effectively together. Travelling in those countries enables one to learn how they operate, their values, local etiquette and customs. This enables people to communicate effectively and enjoy each other’s company.
Travelling is not just an effective way to learn culture. It is the only effective way to learn culture. It is the only way to gain experience of the world first-hand.
Share with us one of your most memorable anecdotes during travelling
Esther: One of my most memorable anecdotes is really at my own expense! I went travelling on safari to Kenya and Tanzania in the British summer, but the African winter. I was told to bring warm clothing but I thought I knew better and the warmest item of clothing I took was a long-sleeved cotton t-shirt. We camped in Tanzania on the top of the Ngorongoro Crater and it was absolutely freezing! All the group had fleeces, hats, gloves, ski-type jackets on… I wore my long-sleeved cotton t-shirt, plus every other single piece of clothing I owned and borrowed from others…. I think the moral of the story is really to listen to those who know better!
Simon: What about a story about the relative values of experience? A few years ago, I had an opportunity to participate in a programme in a remote desert wilderness. It involved camping out in the wilderness, creating a fire through the use of sticks and a stone, cooking and eating basic food and experiencing an ancient spiritual process first-hand. It was a fascinating, educational and spiritually-enriching experience. One could even say that it was a life-changing experience, giving me a whole new perspective on life. It was also pretty uncomfortable physically. I stayed beforehand in a luxury hotel on the outskirts of that wilderness desert. It struck me as ironic and amusing that the costs of staying in the luxury resort were approximately one quarter of the costs per night of sleeping rough and uncomfortably in the desert. Dealing with discomfort in order to gain an enriching personal experience can be worth a great deal more than taking the option which would generally be considered more comfortable and desirable.