It's that time of year for summer vacations! Going far away from home on a vacation can offer a unique opportunity for perspective taking that is hard to achieve in other ways. Getting far away from your usual routine, stressors, comforts, contextual cues, and such provides a special chance for reflection.

If you have gone away this summer, what have you learned about yourself, your home, and your own culture? 

I just returned from spending several weeks in Portugal and Spain and found that I learned much about myself and America in the process. Being in a very different environment regarding history, culture, climate, language, and traditions offered a chance to not only learn about another part of the world that I knew fairly little about but about myself and as well as my own culture and country.

What did I learn? Well, I think the following 5 insights were especially striking to me.

1. America tends to be a very Type A place. Our lifestyle focuses on getting a lot done and done quickly. Being productive, working hard, and never having enough time to achieve became much more apparent to me while in Europe.

2. America does most everything in excess. There seems to be little supersizing in Europe. Meals and drinks, for example, are smaller than in the USA. In fact, I didn't see one obese person during the entire 2 week period that I was there. Cars are smaller too. Comparing a place like Las Vegas (which I consider to be "America on steroids") to places like Lisbon, Seville, or Madrid says it all.

3. The siesta tradition is a civilized way to be in the world. As is well known, many countries take a mid day break of several hours to rest, eat, socialize, and so forth before returning to work later in the day. How civilized is that?

4. America is such a new country in many ways. We don't have the long history and traditions (as well as buildings and monuments) that are so noticeable in Europe. One is constantly reminded of history and tradition that is just not as available in the USA in teh same way. 

5. Things used to be built to last. Cathedrals, monuments, ancient aqueducts sometimes over 1,000 and even over 2,000 years old still exist and are both functional and beautiful. We tend not to see that in the USA. In fact where I live in northern California, once a home is sold the odds are very high that it will be destroyed and a new home will be built on that location. 

What about you? If you have taken some time away from home this summer, what have you learned about yourself, your home, your country, and your culture?  Vacations are times for rest and relaxation as well as learning about other places on the globe but they are also a special opportunity for reflection and learning something else about your self and where you come from. 

Additionally, travel allows us the opportunity to see the world through the lens of others and perhaps provides a chance to develop solidarity with others. Now when I learn of troubles or concerns in places where I've been (e.g., the financial crisis in Portugal) I have particular people in mind who I am concerned about. 

So, where have you been recently and what have you learned?

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