We are home again and full swing back into the U.S. lives we left behind for two weeks. As friends, family, and colleagues ask how the trip was, I always reply: “It was great!” But then the next part depends on the audience. What do they want to know, and what do I want to emphasize? Most people are intrigued to learn about our experiences seeing chocolate, coffee, and sugar cane being processed. All are wowed by stories of wildlife–how many of us have the chance to see a kinkajou, howler monkeys, or a ruddy motmot in the wild? Don’t even get me started on tropical fruit! Some are impressed when I reflect that our team spent 12-hours plus each day together for 2 weeks and didn’t have any fights or team drama. (I truly had a good time with my extension colleagues–shout out to Margie, Bill, Jim, and Tamara!)  Many want to hear about the hotel, toilet, or other sanitary conditions, as these represent their own greatest fears about traveling some place unknown.

Okay, so fewer people are casually interested to hear about the sticky dynamics of board development after a crisis or learning how to market things professionally or keep records for separate aspects of your farm or collective’s business. I can accept that. While this is important work for us in Extension and for the audiences we work with, it’s not always prime dinner conversation. Like we do with our regular work, we have to craft the message to relate to the people we talk to. Find a hook they can connect with. I don’t have one elevator speech about what I do, but if you have more than a minute I’ll find a way we can help each other.

One lesson that I am coming home with is that traveling abroad forces us to think of ourselves as a whole person in our work. You have to draw on all of your life’s experiences (as a traveler, a parent, a gardener, a social worker, a teacher) to gain trust and credibility. That Margie and Bill and Jim come from farming families was as important to their teaching as what they were actually talking about. Maybe they haven’t thought about what it was like to milk cows by hand in a while, but in their memory those experiences were foundational. Finding that level of shared experience across cultures is something that unites us on a fundamentally human level. I love to travel, mostly because I am constantly learning how similar we all are even though our lives may look quite different on the surface.

As we traveled, there was no “on the clock” or “off the clock” time. Partly, because we still had internet access through our cell phones and were dealing with “work” and “family” drama even though we were away from home. But mostly, we were always learning about context–food, tourism, conversation, economics, nature,  beauty, values–whether we were touring a volcano, eating a meal at a restaurant, or visiting a family farm. To me this is the richness of travel–it overwhelms you with context and forces you to reflect on your own context–one that starts to become invisible to you when you stick to what’s comfortable and familiar.

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