By: Jessica Kamikaze

Try Making Fewer Stupid Assumptions About Places You Travel To

One of the major reasons people travel (besides taking a week to get drunk and lie on the beach) is to experience other cultures and other communities. Most people have an idea of what to expect on their travels. On the other hand, most seasoned travellers want to go into travel with an open mind. They are wary of over generalizations and blanket statements that attempt to characterize entire groups of people and entire cultures. It can be pretty hard to balance genuine curiosity and willingness to learn about a culture with knowledge that you’ve gained through research or first-hand experience. The result you hope for is a good attitude and maybe some authentic understanding, but so often we mistake our outsider observations for real knowledge.

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It’s like this one time when I was sent on a research trip with a nurse and a health researcher. I do health research as part of my PhD and I go the chance to take a paid trip to Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories – a community of 900 people living where the Mackenzie River meets the Arctic ocean (like literally on the edge of the ocean). We were there to test for stomach bacteria that could lead to cancer, and we were going to be living in a trailer for one very cold, very dark week in March.

Now, I have worked with a lot of Aboriginal people throughout Canada during my research career and one of the most important things I learned was to check my preconceptions at the door. That’s what I tried to do when I got to Tuk. I have to say, of all the places I’ve ever been to, Tuk is my all-time favourite. It’s a big claim, I know, but I stand by it. The community was super welcoming: everybody knew where we were staying, where we were working, and who we were even bundled from head to toe against the -45 degree cold. Everyone waved when they passed and people were always willing to stop and talk.

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One of our team members was staying with Tuk’s two resident social workers (both southerners who had been working in the community for a few years). One night we all had dinner together and got to ask lots of questions about Tuk to the insiders. One of my fellow team members remarked that it didn’t seem like this community had many social problems because everyone seemed so happy and everyone seemed to have jobs. That was so incredibly wrong, as the social worker went on to explain. The community actually had a very high unemployment rate and many people were on social assistance. There were also high rates of alcoholism and domestic violence. Very few students graduated high school.

Like most places, Tuk is a community that celebrates its good qualities and wrestles with its problems. Next time you’re travelling and you find yourself making stupid assumptions, think of Tuk. And be like “You know what? I don’t know shit.”

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