April 2015 Travel: extraordinary to ordinary and back again?

Or Light Bulb Moment



Susan Walter Garden International School  (GIS) Deputy Head

Light Bulb Moment

I’ve never been skiing. I couldn’t see the attraction. All that money and the most unflattering clothes. Pointless. Luckily, the bloke topping up my glass at the BBQ was talking about sailing, and I’d been sailing. In the Greek Islands. Gorgeous scenery and uplifting exercise in the fresh air. My kind of holiday.

Long drive mind.

Not as long though, as the flight to The Caribbean that Christmas with the same bloke sitting next to me oblivious to how his invitation had forced me to re-categorise my fear of flying as a cost of doing business. At the time, I believed I’d been blinded to my aviophobia by the opportunity to go on such a fabulous sailing holiday with a bloke I quite liked. Now, since I understand more about how the brain learns, I’ve realised that my growth mindset was actually what empowered me to step out of my comfort zone and fly.

Would I have considered a job in KL if I’d not gone on that holiday? Who knows, what with butterfly wings and life’s many paths to the same place… it certainly changed me though. Knowing I could overcome any fear if I wanted to badly enough was undoubtedly a significant step on the road to the “light bulb moment” that I should retrain to become a teacher, and here we are in KL.

In the modern world, our brains typically only see predictable generic conformity, which means slower, shallower learning, and boredom. How exciting then, that travel is a proven way to counter this, and living in KL with it’s fantastic and affordable connectivity to so many different places, means that we, and our 22 (yes – twenty two!) visitors so far have been countering hard. In Malaysia itself we quickly learned that most of the manmade attractions wouldn’t look out of place on a wet night in Burnley and thus concentrated on the natural ones.

My husband, Trophy, our family’s official tour guide, goes to the monkeys, fireflies (synchronous), and fishing village at Kuala Selangor so often, he won’t eat fish and seafood in KL –  it’s so much better there. FRIM is also a regular, as is visiting the Elephant Sanctuary on the way to/from Kuantan with its great beaches, turtles and fireflies (asynchronous). To us, brought up on David Attenborough and The Discovery Channel, these truely are Natural Wonders. Our biggest learning though, has been around the practical difficulties of conservation in an environment where many who live here consider them to be just ordinary, rather than part of an amazing heritage.

This clash of amazing and ordinary caught me on  the ten minute walk from my hotel to a conference at the Bangkok Shangri-La. The recommended shortcut took me through a hole in a boarding fence and it felt like I’d stepped through a portal. I entered what looked and smelled like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie. There were people everywhere. And animals. Alive, dead, and soon to be dead.

“Fis fresh!”

“I can see, but thank you, no.”

“Prawn. Wan prawn?”

“Fis. Two ten baht. Goo pri.”

Welcome to The Shangri La, Madam.

Juxtaposition? No, ordinary. Others at the conference, looked blankly when I mentioned juxtaposition. This was Bangkok. Ordinary.

Extraordinary becomes ordinary very quickly when travelling, so much so that when Trophy, Skyping our friend Gary said he’d got nothing interesting to put in his blog, he was politely reminded that we’d just been to Angkor Wat, Tas, our “ten-ager”, was wakeboarding twice a week, and I was going to Shanghai for a maths competition. Ordinary here. Amazing in London.

Or like when Tas when asked what he wanted for breakfast after a sleepover back in London this Christmas, replied “curry” and was puzzled by his friends shocked reactions. We all know the brains amazing, but it’s still a surprise that not only does it love being exposed to new, unexpected, stimuli, learning faster and more deeply as a result, but it also bores so quickly that these new and exciting experiences soon become our norm!

How on earth then can we keep up this accelerated, amplified learning if our brains synthesise the unexpected into predictable so quickly? Well, its essential we keep conscious control, take nothing for granted and give ourselves credit for breaking out of our comfort zones. In addition we can help our brains organise our subconscious learnings by grounding them, this could be simply by editing the hundreds of photos we’ve taken into manageable albums or perhaps getting a recognised qualification like we did for our sailing in Phuket. Beats the English Channel I can tell you!

Finally, we must continue to search for new challenges, encourage others to help us and try to generate our own serendipity… like I’ve somehow agreed to accompanying Tas on the next school trip to Japan…skiing!

Susan Walter Garden International School  (GIS) Deputy Head

Light Bulb Moment