Reality Tours to the "Emerging World"
On "travel seminars," in nations with two thirds of the world's population, Americans are exploring the most important issues of our time
How many "worlds" do you know? To how many "worlds" have you traveled? Apart from a periodic jaunt to Mexico or the Caribbean, have you traveled to the "Emerging World," the "Third World"? And can those beach vacations at a Club Med in Cancun, or a casino-resort in Curacao, really be regarded as equivalents to the real thing?
Nine organizations outside the bounds of the normal travel industry have set about operating "reality tours" to the true Third World. Their aim is enlightenment rather than recreation or rest. Their area of activity is the poorest part of what is also called the "developing world": most of Central and South America, most of Africa, and some of Asia, a cauldron of struggle and promise. Their method is to stress contact with ordinary people of the Third World, to expose tour passengers to conditions experienced by residents of that "world" (who make up three-quarters of the population of the earth). And their search is for solutions: to poverty and debt, domestic instability and disease, the unequal allocation of income and resources.
So is the trip a chore, an exercise in self-flagellation? Far from it, say the backers of these odd travel ventures. For this, it is claimed, is "transformative travel" that irrevocably broadens the mind and liberates the spirit of those who engage in it, makes them clear-headed and emphatic in their public judgments, enhances their love for humankind, gives them goals and purpose. And some concessions are made to personal comfort: the use of modest hotels in place of mud huts, an occasional stay in modern dormitories or pleasant private homes.
Largest of all
The Center for Global Education, Augsburg College, 2211 Riverside Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55454 (phone 800/299-8889 or 612/ 330-1159, fax 612/330-1695, e-mail email@example.com, Website augsburg.edu/global), is the largest of the Third World tour operators. Though its base is that of a small Lutheran school with limited funds, it successfully sends out more than 40 groups a year -- more than twice a month -- to Mexico, Central America, Cuba and Southern Africa for the most part, but occasionally to Southeast Asia and the Pacific Rim area. Most tours are planned for seven to 14 days, at total tour costs of $1,300 to $3,000 per person, including airfare, accommodations, and all meals.
Trips here are called travel seminars, and seminars they most emphatically are: discussions from morning till night with a multitude of individuals and groups. In recent brochures, participants are scheduled to meet, on the one hand, with officials of the U.S. embassy in each capital, and with members of the U.S. business community there, for one viewpoint, but also with contrary-thinking clergy from "base Christian communities" and "grassroots organizations for social change" in each nation. And then, to inject still more "voices" into the talk:
In Nicaragua: "Dialogue with officials of the Nicaraguan government . . . with peasants and labor union leaders . . . Dialogue with religious and human rights organizations . . . Visits to development projects in rural Nicaragua."
In El Salvador: "Discussion of foreign policy issues with Salvadoran government officials. . . Dialogue with mothers of disappeared persons. . . Visit to repopulated refugee communities. . . Dialogue with representatives of the church."
In Mexico:"Visit to a squatter settlement in Cuernavaca and discussion with residents about their situation. . . Visit to a rural village and discussion with peasants."
Heavily influenced by the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, the center's officials take pains to emphasize their use of his theories: that "experiential education" (here, a short-term immersion in travel) is the most potent form of self-education; that dialogue, in which people critically assess their own situation, can liberate them from prejudice and lead to beneficial social action; that even the illiterate can gain from such dialogue; and that communication can be achieved between the poor and non-poor, greatly benefiting both.
Accordingly, the center stresses advance preparation for travel, which "helps people recognize their biases and provides them with tools to discern the truth in the voices they will hear." En route, it exposes passengers to "a variety of political points of view so that they can reflect more critically on all the voices they hear." And though it seeks to meet with leaders and decision makers in the countries it visits, it "places emphasis on learning from the those struggling for political and economic justice -- those who do not often have an opportunity to speak."