Educating RTWs

David Whitley looks at the main subjects you can choose from at the university of Round The World travel

The looking at maps part of geography is obvious, but the crushing disappointment of geography classes has always been the concentration on things like oxbow lakes and igneous rock formation rather than looking at maps. When you actually see what effects such geographical phenomena have, it’s a lot more interesting. Mountain ranges create weather patterns and define natural boundaries. Removing vegetation reduces soil quality and makes places hard to live in. Things that happen to a river upstream affect the land downstream. When you start to understand such aspects of cause and effert, you being to get why things are as they are – and how the local human populations are affected.

Learning why things are the way they are is the point of learning history. Forget lists of kings and queens – history is about context. You pick up so many snippets of information by reading guide books, looking at information in museums, talking to people and listening to tour guides. And, together, these form a historical context. Australia, for example, is so much more rewarding once you understand how its modern era began with convict shipments. Cambodia means more when you understand how it was crippled by other people’s wars. Singapore surprises you when you know it was at the same economic level as many African countries during the 1950s.

There’s something very humbling about being around people who earn the equivalent of a couple of quid a day. Look further into why they’re only earning a couple of quid a day, however, and it starts to get interesting. The old economic law of supply and demand always applies – the cost of living is often substantially lower.

Head to traditional villages and you may find that people in them have hardly any money – but they do have land and food which allows them to maintain a relatively comfortable lifestyle. They may not have the western trappings, they may be poor by any standards, but that doesn’t mean they are struggling to live on what they have.

Then in some countries, you’ll see a hand-out culture. Children clad in clothing sent from abroad may seem like a good thing, but it’s not if so much free clothing is sent from abroad that there’s no point setting up a local clothing manufacturer.

Similarly, the merits of free trade and protectionism become apparent. Western powers are very keen to promote free trade when it’s things they do well. They’re not so keen when it’s things the Third World countries could do better and far cheaper. Food is the prime one here – gigantic subsidies for farmers in the US and Europe prevent poorer countries from competing on a level playing field with their greatest natural resource.

The economics of rich and poor aren’t quite as clear cut as you may imagine before you set off…

Well, you expected that, didn’t you?

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Giraffe photo courtesy of the lovely folks from the Tanzania Tourist Board