The Gudgel Family Advent Calendar — “The antidote to ignorance”

“Wait, that’s a real house?” a student inquired of me yesterday as we were studying the Wannsee Conference of 1942. “Yes,” I told her. “I’ve been there. And the next time you’re in Berlin, the next time any of you are in Berlin,” I instructed the class, “You should visit it.”

“When will we ever be in Germany?” a young lady asked from the back.

“Soon I hope,” I told her. “You could be there tonight if you wanted to. It’s a matter of having some money and a passport. So if you don’t have a passport, get one, and if you don’t have the money for an international plane ticket, well, then start saving up, or plan to study abroad in college, or join the Peace Corps. You’ll have your opportunities. You’ll make them.”

Sonja gets home today. She’s been in Memphis all week for work. It will be good to see her. When we met, she’d just gotten back from Mali maybe the year before, China before that, and on our honeymoon we went to Sonoma, then I moved to London, and each time she visited we went new places together — Oxford, Brugge, Paris. We met up in New York once. We love to travel, to learn about and exist in other cultures and societies. I wish everyone could do it.

Today, I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to travel. I’m reflecting back on all of the things I’ve learned through those lived experiences and I’m not at all surprised that I’ve made helping students travel — we’re going to DC and NYC this spring, KC and Colorado this summer, and hopefully more, as well as visiting a lot of local places of interest, such as the birthplace of Malcolm X, during class time — such a top priority of mine. In that vein, I wanted to share just a few highlights.

August 2011, NIHE teacher fellows travel to Rwanda to work with local teachers

August 2011, NIHE teacher fellows travel to Rwanda to work with local teachers

I didn’t caption that, but it’s accurate. This was taken in southern Rwanda. I obviously lost the footrace.


This one was taken by Sonja — I have one of her just like it, in Oxford.  This is the pub where Lewis, Tolkien, Williams, and others would gather to drink and hone their craft. I want to open a pub in the US and call it this someday.


This was taken in Binche, a hamlet of Belgium, right before the man in red got married. Interestingly, the man to his left, in blue, gets married this summer in Ireland.


And finally, this picture I took this summer, and it was a most profound experience. What you see in front of you is the second oldest Jewish cemetery in all of Europe, whilst below it sits the city of Sarajevo. What you don’t hear is that at 4:57, the Muslim call to prayer began to echo through the fishbowl in which Sarajevo sits, and just as it ended the Orthodox church bells began to gong and echo through the valley.  It was, for me, one of the most profound learning experiences I have ever had, and one I could never have had without traveling to Bosnia.

The philosopher Trevor Noah advises that “travel is the antidote to ignorance,” and I wish to banish as much ignorance from my character as I possibly can. I know that international travel is a gift enjoyed by the privileged, though this again leads me to so much grant writing to find ways to get my students to travel with me as often as possible.

Last night, I finished teaching my graduate class in Lincoln and offered to buy anyone who wanted to celebrate a drink. About half of our small class took me up on it, and we headed for a sports bar I used to frequent when I lived in Lincoln.  We had a nice discussion and I was happy to help them celebrate the accomplishment of finishing a semester as well as they had. In that sports bar, I had a beer, a nice dark ale with some spices that they had on tap. I learned long ago, in Rwanda first and then in England, not to drink wine in a place that is obviously trying to sell beer.  I toasted my students briefly, then got on the road and left them there to celebrate.

Lately, I’ve been pondering whether or not to apply for a few grants this summer and work abroad, or instead to focus on the work I do here and be more present this summer with my children as they continue to grow. There is probably a balance to be struck somewhere, though it is difficult to find, and I am open to suggestions. Of course, I’ll let you know what I end up doing, and I will be grateful for whatever opportunities to travel may come my way.

Sonja gets home tonight. If I time it right, I can pick her up from the airport with the kids in the backseat and then go out to eat. I know she’ll be tired after the trip from Memphis, which takes half as long to fly as it does to drive, and I know also how excited she’ll be to see the kids and they her. It’s a moment I look forward to witnessing, having experienced it so many times myself. Should this holiday season find you traveling, I hope you travel well, and that you learn from being in the places you wind up.

Cheers to traveling, and to learning from the experience,


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