Guest Posts, Musings, Social Work

The Value of Being a Foreigner

July 19, 2012

This week, Ted’s Alma mater, Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon, shares his essay about the impacts of extended international travel on his understanding of the world and ability to love.


“One of the most important reasons to travel is to know what it feels like to be a foreigner.” – A. A. Gill

Not until I had been off North American soil for three months did I fully realize how much I missed home. South America was still “America;” I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t expect to feel so out of place, so distant, so foreign. On a daily basis, I found myself in situations where I was completely dependent on local people for the most basic necessities: food, water, transportation, communication. There was no “Spanglish” spoken here.

Thirty-one months after graduating from Multnomah, my wife and I embarked on a one-year backpacking journey around the world. We quit our jobs, mine at a local homeless shelter, hers at a landscape architecture firm, sold our stuff, and with much idealism began our journey in Lima, Peru. Today, I sit in a breezy apartment in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, reflecting on the last six months, bracing for the next half.

If there is one thing I wasn’t prepared for, it was being a foreigner in a foreign land. Sure, I’ve been places before—Europe, Mexico, Canada. But these days one can travel to all kinds of places without really having to leave the comfort and familiarity of ‘America.’ When we finally got off the beaten path, in Southern Bolivia for instance, or in Northern Lebanon, or on the undeveloped side of a Cape Verde island, we experienced a different kind of travel. We became at times guests, at times imposters, at times gawking and squawking ignorants, but always at the mercy of the land and people around us…

(Continue reading at the Multnomah University Blog)

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5 Comments

  • Reply Carrie Minns July 19, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    Great post Ted! Sure have loved following your journey. Thank you for being so generous with your photographs and writing. Safe travels….

  • Reply Lauren, Ephemerratic July 19, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    When Todd and I did a year round the world, I had very similar reactions at the three month mark. But, even though, as you continue on the university blog, I have the inherent privilege of being born white in America, I can and do feel foreign at home in the U.S. I’ve traveled to parts of our country where the average local might be trying to take away my rights (as a woman) or the rights of those I love (name just about any marginalized part of our population). It’s in those surroundings that I’ve felt the most foreign (well, and that one time in India…).

  • Reply Ted ~ twoOregonians July 22, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Great points Lauren!

  • Reply Stephanie - The Travel Chica July 26, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    So, so true!

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