When asked why he travels so much, Ethan Archundia answers, “I stay somewhere until I feel that I’ve done what I came for, and then I move on. If I ever feel the need to stay someplace longer or put down roots, then I will.”
Ethan, a sophomore political science major, has spent most of his life on the move. Born in New Hampshire, Ethan soon moved to Mexico with his family—first to Puebla, then Mexico City, then Cozumel. From Mexico, he moved to Puerto Rico; from Puerto Rico to New Jersey; from New Jersey back to New Hampshire. All that movement has nurtured his thirst for exploration, and a love of languages and cultures.
During the past two summers and over winter break, Ethan has covered some ground. He’s traveled to Mexico, Canada, England, the Netherlands, France, Italy, and Greece. His focus has been on adventure, yes (such as bicycling from London to Stonehenge in the middle of the night), but he’s driven to communicate with the people he meets along the way.
Ethan is fluent in English and Spanish, proficient in French, and plans to study Arabic or Chinese next year. But knowing four languages will probably not be enough for him. One of his pet peeves is not being able to communicate with others in their own language, whatever the language. He sees it as lost potential for human connection and growth. The frustration he felt when he participated in the UNH international students orientation is still evident.
“About 50 of the 90 people there were Chinese. I couldn’t communicate at all with half the people. I was shut out by the language barrier,” Ethan says. And he’s experienced the same barrier when traveling, lamenting that “the person that I can’t communicate with could be my best friend if we could only understand each other.”
But it goes beyond lost friendships. Not knowing the language of a country limits your experience of that country. Ethan contends that it is the connections you make with people that help you understand the culture. If you can’t understand the people, you can’t understand the culture.
For Ethan, those connections are made easier when traveling solo. He’s certainly not averse to traveling with others—both family and friends have made dear traveling companions. But when alone, he falls into the rhythm and tenor of a country much more quickly. He says of his solo journeys: I felt more a part of where I was traveling because I had to talk to more people. It also made me more approachable to locals. They would ask, ‘Do you have a place to stay?’ ” And thus would start the cultural learning process.
The lessons of travel are ones that Ethan applies back here on campus. When he returns to New Hampshire and meets people from other countries, he feels better able to relate to them because of his own experience of being a foreigner in a foreign land. In some cases, he can understand those foreigners better because he has seen their culture first-hand.
“Seeing the English living in their own land, and the French living in their own land, and the Greeks living in their own land makes you understand people from those cultures much better,” says Ethan, who hopes that this understanding can be a positive step toward a more integrated multi-cultural society here in America.
So where will Ethan travel to next? He’s considering studying in the Middle East or Asia. And then he’ll move on.
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