Thinking Outside the Box

Posted: 2nd December 2009 by admin in Uncategorized

A few months ago at work we had a department meeting. In it, our managers were pressuring us about performance, as occurs anywhere.

To illustrate, one of them drew up on the board a participatory exercise in which we apparently showed ourselves unable to think outside the box.

As bad an indicator as I personally believe that is, I believe in the existence of a cultural box that many fail to think outside of. I have personally found this mostly with Americans I meet, though I’m sure it happens everywhere.

Consider the idea of traveling. Even somewhere where Americans often travel, Europe, is considered a faraway and exotic place. That distance, both geographically and culturally, places walls within their thought processes to going. Without actually researching the idea, Americans may stop themselves from going from the collective perspective they gather, that it’s a faraway place you may only travel to once in your life.

And this is for a relatively known place. Consider others, such as Africa and Asia, and they may as well be worlds away. Some Americans do get out, but nevertheless treat their experiences as necessarily once-in-a-lifetime. Students doing their one year abroad, or even retirees only after retirement finding the time and money to travel.

This, I believe, is inside-the-box thinking. It can happen to TCKs too, but generally their experience should teach them that it’s not that hard to travel, if you really want to.

In a sense, travel is a leap over empty air, in which you hope to land on solid ground at the other side. For TCKs, it wouldn’t be their first jump, so they know that there’s always ground when they land, it’s only a matter of what kind it is. But for many people who’ve never traveled or traveled only a little, every time they leave home it’s an adventure into the unknown.

I’ve met some people who travel with their eyes wide, a comic tourist, amazed at everything. I’ve met some who travel for the first time, but are unable to appreciate the real difference because, in their minds, they’re still at home. The latter was certainly the case when I heard from my aunt, who took her family to Paris for the first time in all their lives. Their summary was that Paris was “Cold, and everyone smoked.” Which is a horrible summary for as complex and varied a city such as Paris is.

But some never make it that far. To travel to another country is a daunting trip. In truth it isn’t, as many of us should know. It’s all a matter of what you’re willing to give up in time, money, or opportunity. When traveling to a new country there’s risk involved: Getting lost, not knowing the language, not knowing where to go, what to do. Tours minimize it, but also compartmentalize it. They box it up. You travel, see the sights, but never leave the comfort of being around other tourists.

To me, travel is about a different mindset. When you travel, the world around you changes. You start in one world, but you get on a plane, wait several hours in a little box, and then emerge to a world of difference. That affects the way you think, too, because your context has changed. The way you associate with people around you should, too, change. The whole point of travel is to expand your mind’s borders. Through experience, you realize how much is outside of your box, that you inadvertently enlarge it.

As TCKs, repatriation can affect the way we see it too. It’s easy to play along with the culture around you, and act as well like all countries are so far away and untouchable. But it serves us to remember that it’s not that hard. All you have to know is what it costs.

  1. Anonymous says:

    Really enjoyed reading the post, even if it is a while back when you wrote it. Nicely put, I must say! I often feel that way, at my work in Germany: my colleagues have travelled only as tourists – never having lived in another country but their home country – and it reflects in the way they do business or start something new. It helps to think outside the box and know that the world can work with a different mindset altogether and still “work” – since only a small part of the world even “thinks western/developed”. In a strongly monocultural country like Germany, it can be hard understanding how a german mind works … but the TCK experience¬† definitely adds value to your own expereience in work, travel and in friendships, knowing the world can also be so different and so worth seeing and living in!