Sunday, July 20, 2014

Travel is wonderful – but not for everyone

American magazine editor and writer Kevin Kelly suggested in a recent blog that travel is such an important mind-broadening experience for young people that governments should subsidise it.

Kelly believes that everyone ought to do national service – although not necessarily of the military kind. “A two-year stint of service is the way to mix the layers of society up, gain the energies of youth for all, and have them begin to repay the 18 years invested in them,” he writes.

Even better if that service is conducted overseas, Kelly says, The amount of money such a program would cost would be repaid a hundred-fold in increased global business skills, decreased war bills because it’s harder to demonise those you’ve lived with, and increases in tourism as young people with a taste for travel want to do more in later years.

It’s a beguiling prospect without a hope of success. The fact is that there are many opportunities for young people to spread their wings – the Peace Corps in the United States, Australia has Australian Volunteers International. No nation is going spend money in forcing youth into these projects which would probably be overwhelmed if they did.

While many would benefit from the opportunity, others could easily end up doing more harm than good. Kelly should be aware there are US politicians who proudly proclaim the fact they have never owned a passport – and get elected on the fact. Closed minds will not necessarily be opened and those with engrained prejudices will inevitably find the experiences that reinforce them.

Having said that, I applaud any initiatives that entice young people to step outside their comfort zones. The Australian Defence Force’s Gap Year Program is an outstanding example. Other opportunities, such as reciprocal work visas for people under a certain age, are in place for some countries and should be expanded.

One thought that has occurred is giving Australian graduates the opportunity to work off some of their Higher Education Contributions Scheme debts through taking part in a form of national service, perhaps overseas.

It is a great world. I have been blessed with a job that has taken me to many parts of it; with every new country I visit the thirst to see more is increased. One day I will have to stop, or at least slow down, but not yet, not yet.

Even so, I realise this is not for everyone. The stay-at-homes – and those who are content with a trip to Bali or Mexico every couple of years – can still be valuable members of their home communities.

So let’s have more and varied ways of encouraging young people to travel – without compulsion. 




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