You know how it is. You come back from your vacation (or from working or studying abroad) and you want to tell everyone all about it. You are so full of thoughts, memories, and experiences that you think you might explode if you don’t talk about it. And that is wonderful…up to a point.
We are all glad you had a good time, and we are glad you got home safely, but really, we don’t care much what you saw or did. We’ll be happy to look at your photos for about twenty minutes. After that, though, we will have had enough.
The photos you took capture only a fraction of your experience, and they are valuable as reminders for you. Since we weren’t there, though, we have no idea about the sounds or the smells, what the food tasted like, or how rough was the terrain. All we have are the two-dimensional snapshots and the stories you tell.
If you are a good story-teller, then we may thoroughly enjoy your descriptions. If, on the other hand, your travel story goes “and then…and then…and then…” we will tune out fairly quickly.
Similarly, if every mention of China triggers you to say “When I was in Beijing…” we are likely to roll our eyes. I know this because that’s what happens to me when I say “When I was in Kenya…” It was only a ten-day vacation, but it blew my mind. I sometimes say it was life-changing, but that is a bit too dramatic. It did change forever the way I shop and the way I buy groceries and the interest I take in the news from that part of the world, but “life-changing” is probably an overstatement.
Still, I’m often tempted to reflect on that experience. It’s a kind of touchstone for making comparisons and a way of putting things in perspective. Spending just a few days with a family in Nairobi has given me a broader understanding and an awareness of how some other people’s lives are lived. It helps me to re-evaluate my consumption habits, waste, family ties, living with less stuff, and so on. I realized how people can be friendly and cheerful even when things are going badly; in fact, they may not complain at all since it does no good.
But, you don’t want to know all this. You don’t want to know how awesome it was to see elephants, lions, giraffes, baboons, and zebras in the wild. It was a magnificent and awesome journey into the Masai Mara reserve, but it was a personal experience. I took a few good pictures, and that’s enough to remind me that I was once, briefly, taken outside my comfort zone. From now on I’m going to try very hard not to say “When I was in…” unless you ask me about my trip. Then you’ll have to tell me when to stop.