Travelling to Think Critically – A plan(e) for Social Inclusion

In the times of cheap flying, quite accessible translators and motivating social media, we do love to travel more than ever. Or at least we do love to take pictures in the places from the top of TripAdvisor’s lists.

No matter what’s the main motivation that led us to take a plane, car or even a bike and go to a different place, the travel experience will always bring changes in our way of perceiving the world. There’s no doubt that to many of us it gives a fresh point of view and it opens the mind for the differences. And when the travellers are young people with some economical and studying difficulties, but with their young minds that still soak up ideas like a sponge, we have a great example of  giving the chance to become critical thinking adults for those who extremely need it in the world as it is today. 

Critical thinking is not something that we are naturally programmed to have since the day we were born, nor a feature that is given to us genetically. Although this utopian scenario would definitely be helpful, the reality is slightly different. 

Critical thinking is a complex skill that needs to be patiently learned and developed. And then, sometimes brutally, it is tested on a daily basis, for example when facing oversaturation of (fake) informations in the frighteningly fast and relatively uncontrolled digital world. The lack of critical thinking skill in today’s world does not only harm the people involved, cutting their ability to access reliable information, but can be dangerous for the whole world when the severe-level fake news goes viral, unchecked and not rethought enough. 

Surely until now you have already been able to notice the connection that is being created here. The link between travelling and developing critical thinking skills is more than obvious. But first, let’s paint some more of the background: 

On July of 2021 the group of young Polish students from a special school Zespol Szkol nr 3 from Wloclawek had a chance to participate in the programme financed by the European Funds, Travelling into unknown – Following the steps of a great explorers, and travel to Portugal in collaboration with ETIC_Algarve, the School of Innovation and Technology in Faro. 

For most of them, it was the first time they went abroad. Only one has travelled by plane before. Their special needs influence their lives, but do not (or better, in a perfect world should not) stop them from functioning in harmony with society. They mostly struggle with school matters and learning, some of them have autism, others suffer from mental issues. Sometimes they come from difficult backgrounds. And so, as someone may call, as a more vulnerable social group, they need the skill to think critically even more to be able to defend themselves from those who may take advantage of them or simply just try to sabotage their self-confidence.

To become a critical thinker, cultural inputs, multicultural experiences, different points of view and self-confidence strong enough to express yourself are crucial. One of the principles of the ability to think critically is that we need to be able to judge the situation the most objectively possible. All of the factors above, at some point, help to get out of the bubble of know-it-all attitude and develop a more open-minded way of perceiving the world. And all of them can be acquired while travelling and indeed was acquired by the group of Polish students hosted by ETIC_Algarve in Portugal. 

Just the fact of experiencing the new way of moving from place to place quickly and safely, facing the common fear of flying for the first time was a huge thing that shaped them and gave their own point of view for the mystical flying issue. To compare, on their way back, they already had their own opinion on flying and boarded rather with the mindset similar to the one that they used to have before only while getting on the bus – yet another thing that takes you from point A to point B.

Then, being placed in a new reality, surrounded by people that speak different languages, being somehow forced to try to adapt their communication skills (verbally and non-verbally), gave them the confidence to speak with people from other countries with significantly smaller language barriers. Some spoke English, others learned some basic Portuguese words and the super-creative ones were talking via translators. No matter the way each has found, they all have made a first step to find the great will to communicate and exchange ideas despite the difficulties – an extremely important aspect for learning critical thinking.

What’s also important, is the chance to compare their previous image of the country with their own points of view and experiences to create their own opinions about it. And then of course discuss and compare it to the opinions of their friends. This is how natural debates are born, even if with a source in a trivial matter like the taste of quite exotic, seafood based lunch. In a few years, this experience will grow together with those who had it and be a base for healthy and culturally led discussions on bigger issues. 

Finally, travelling far from home makes people think differently about the distances. The big family trip to the city in the other part of the country doesn’t seem that big anymore after travelling 2000 kilometers to the completely unknown. 

For people with special needs, many times silently excluded from the society by projecting on them the perception of them being somehow imperfect or incompetent, the idea that they were able to go far by themselves is also a great metaphor. 

Enriched with new experiences out of the box, full of self-confidence after achieving something that seemed impossible, with the awareness of cultural differences that should be observed carefully and compared objectively rather than impulsively and emotionally judged, those youngsters were equipped with a very precious and powerful tool – the seed of critical thinking skill that soon will bloom for a better future.

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