In the last few months I have been blogging about my first two working vacations: England (1980) and Israel (1983), with 15 more to come if you can hang in there! However, there is a question that needs to be asked and answered before moving on, and that simple question is “Why?”
A reader wrote me saying he does not consider any trip that includes work to be a vacation. That’s a reasonable comment, and one that should be addressed. After all, you can buy a 10-day excursion to London or a two-week tour of Israel, so why complicate things with a job? Why leave all the comforts of home for an extended period? There is the money factor, but if you are a skilled professional you can probably afford a nice family holiday. So why a working vacation?
A couple of reasons were mentioned in previous posts:
1) Making friends. Sometimes you make lots of new friends (England); other times not so many (Israel). However, you will always meet someone, and these friendships can last a lifetime. My wife and I are regularly in contact with a young woman we first met in Mauritius. We just had friends from Australia, a couple I worked with 20 years ago, visit us in New York. These and other international relationships are an important part of our lives.
2) Living in a different culture. On the typical 1- or 2-week family vacation you will go on tours, see historical and cultural sites, eat well, and relax by the pool. Fun, yes, but you rarely have the opportunity to meet locals, participate in their cultural and religious activities, learn about the neighborhood, or get involved with community organizations. The country is defined by the airport, hotel, and views from the bus window.
However, there is another, less obvious, reason to consider a working vacation:
3) Becoming part of an international culture can help you better understand and appreciate what is happening right here at home. One’s own social and political orientation can be profoundly influenced by working vacations as you not only expand your understanding of the world but also gain greater insight into what is happening here in the U.S. For example, travel to countries with deep-seated religious strife makes you acutely aware of the terrible societal damage caused by our own homegrown zealots. Living in the midst of a culture struggling with racial and tribal hatreds sensitizes you to the hurt—both physical and spiritual—arising from intolerance, bigotry, and segregation. Working in a developing nation whose economic policies exacerbate the gap between rich and poor opens one’s eyes to the ugliness of greed and the shame of our own society’s tolerance of poverty amidst widespread wealth. Living in a country struggling with 500% annual hyperinflation, such as Israel in 1983, makes you appreciate the (relative) stability of the U.S. economy and the need for vigilance and oversight of our own financial systems. (Note: These are my reasons, but I would love to hear from readers about their own overseas experiences. Share your thoughts about their personal benefits to you and your family.)
For many professionals these social and cultural experiences are far more rewarding than a Las Vegas getaway, a week in Paris, or lounging on the beach. As Mark Twain wrote in Innocents Abroad, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely.” A working vacation is a wonderful way to combine the relaxation of a holiday with the intellectual growth that comes from interacting with and learning from other cultures. And all this on the other guy’s dime!