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Bruins reflect on joys of international travel

History teacher Jeff Carrow enjoys sharing his experiences in different countries to his classes. Photo by Salvatore Ginexi

It is hard to imagine, but our small bubble at Bear River High School has its own unique culture. Of course, there are other schools with gorgeous outdoor campuses and iconic characters educating, but no other students get to experience the specific chaos of the Jungle Dance on a hot August evening, get to be serenaded by Math teacher Gayne Nakano on the ukulele before a geometry lesson, or get to enjoy the sarcastic, comedic style of Spanish teacher Shawn Mason. But what happens when we step outside of this bubble of ours? What happens when we extend our reach of exploration to different countries? 

Travel is important because it is a character-building experience that can open one’s mind to different perspectives and beliefs. Travelers are thrown into a deep end of new sensations, conflicts, and challenges. On one hand, it can make you feel overwhelmingly lost in the beauty or horror of your surroundings. But on the other, connecting with individuals from different parts of the Earth shows how we can all find common ground despite different cultures. Traveling makes the world seem infinitely large and small at the same time. 

However, as COVID-19 runs rampant nearly everywhere in the world, traveling has been abruptly stopped as many countries start to close their borders to prevent the spread of the virus. In times such as these, it’s essential to consider the experiences and perspectives that other people around the world are experiencing — such open mindedness as acquired by traveling.

Many on the Bear River campus agree on the importance of travel and are enthusiastic to share their own travel experiences. Jeff Carrow, history teacher and travel enthusiast, recalled his ample past destinations.

“Right after college, I took a six month trip to Europe. That was with the Rail Pass and the youth hostels. And I think I went to 20 or 21 countries. It was a classic western Rail Pass,” he said. “And one year after I got back, I went back to Europe for another six months. And that included Morocco, North Africa, and Turkey – my first time in Asia in another 21 odd countries. Just living the dream out there – flashing my railway pass and paying pennies on the dollar for youth hostels, meeting people that will still and forever be some of the most interesting, fascinating, adventurous people I will ever meet for as long as I live.”

Students, such as Senior Connor Ronka, also reported visiting, and even living, in many other countries. 

“I’ve lived in Spain, Australia, and Japan,” he said. “I’ve traveled to those three countries and Morocco, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, England, Italy, Portugal, and Greece. Though I don’t remember any of these besides Australia and Japan. More recently, I’ve been to Scotland, Ireland, Finland, Norway, and Canada.”

But the true gift of travelling doesn’t come with the laundry list of destinations you’ve been to. It comes with the memories you’ve made in them. Senior Claire Schad, having traveled to Mexico, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and France, said South France is her favorite destination for the distinct atmosphere she remembers.

“My favorite place to travel was to the south of France to Nice which is on the Mediterranean,” she said. “I loved traveling there because it was completely different than anywhere I have ever been. The weather was super warm and the food was amazing. I loved the small and narrow streets that were lined with restaurants and shops.”

Junior Amber Bell, who has traveled to Venice, Pisa, Florence, and Naples, pointed out her favorite destination was Venice.

“My favorite place I’ve been to was Venice… It was amazing to see Venice before it was flooding and it was beautiful. Plus, it was the first time I had seen my cousins in years.”

Physics teacher Peter Gammelgard traveled to Iceland, Norway, Czech Republic, Guatemala, Canada, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. He said Norway is his favorite for its beauty and its connection to his family history. 

“[My] favorite was probably Norway,” he said. “I have family in Norway, so it was pretty amazing to visit the old ‘homestead’ farm, and see where some of my roots are.”

Ronka decided his favorite was Scotland for the tangible history found in it. 

“My favorite place to travel has been Scotland, mainly because of all the history that you can see there in castles, cathedrals, and Roman ruins.”

Not only does traveling create some of the best memories, it also gives us some of the best stories. Schad told her favorite travel story.

“My favorite travel story would probably be when I went to Ireland, and we stayed in this small town named Kinsale,” she started. “The town was super cute and quaint with lots of cute shops and amazing restaurants. We stayed in a hotel right in town, so we could walk everywhere. It was fun to explore this little town on the coast with my family. While we were in Ireland, we also rented a car which was interesting, because we had to drive on the opposite side of the road.”

Bell told her favorite story which took place in Germany.

“My favorite travel story is when I went to Germany, and I accidentally ate alcoholic cherries,” she said. “They were disgusting.”

Mr. Gammelgard reported having a wide range of travel stories. 

“From the ridiculous: … that one time I was in a car that was pulled over for speeding. The police officer made change for a bribe (the driver had no small bills). To the sublime: Sunset looking over Song-Kul in Kyrgyzstan.”

Mr. Carrow’s favorite travel story took place in Morocco. 

“The main stories that I tell the classes involve my time in Morocco, because there was just so much happening,” he said. “So you get off the ferry, and you get hit with hustlers. These guys are basically getting a cut of a business transaction at a hotel or restaurant. So we were just surrounded by hustlers – me and my ex-wife. And you know, that got really dicey a couple times. There were two people from Germany, two guys from Norway, and this Danish guy. And so, in the famous ‘Morton and Morton’ story, we got hustled hard by this guy, Chris. And so we had to extricate ourselves from that.”

Collecting these memories, Bruins have many reasons to find importance in traveling. For instance, Ronka appreciated its potential to connect people around the world. 

“It’s important to travel and see other cultures and how people live,” he said. “In an increasingly globalized world, seeing how other humans live can help us relate to them more.”

Bell believed those who can travel should definitely take the opportunity.

“I feel like if you can afford to travel, you should,” she said. “It is important to see so many people and cultures, because it opens your mind up to other worlds besides your own.”

Mr. Carrow took it a step further, describing travel as the most valuable education an individual can receive. 

“I think travel actually, without a question, is the very best educational experience that you can have in the world… You just come back from a travel experience richer, more fulfilled, better educated, more knowledgeable, more sensitive, more inclusive, more in tune with the entire world,” he said. “You just become so cultured and educated that the thought of not travelling makes me cringe. I know that’s how I’m going to spend every moment I can for the rest of my life.”

Mr. Gammelgard found the value of travel within the new, refreshing perspectives it provides. 

“Traveling brings perspective that cannot be gained very easily through other means,” he said. “Having a broader perspective on life makes one thankful for what they have, value some things we can take for granted, and question some of those very same things. In some ways, we Nevada County residents have it so ‘good’ that we begin to complain about things that are, in the grand scheme of things, either irrelevant or petty. At the same time, we do some things because we’ve always done them, and it’s refreshing to see how other cultures have solved some of the same problems in different ways … Travel can be like reading a good book, but you’re one of the characters!”

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Bruins reflect on joys of international travel