Travel can foster not only curiosity about other cultures, but also an appreciation

Should we get college credit for traveling?

For many of us, travel is a vital part of our education, even if it isn’t part of any coursework.

I never got any “continuing education” credit for flying to Waikiki during Alaska’s long, dark winter. Although it doesn’t appear on my college transcript, I did get “extra credit” from my folks for coming home for Christmas.

There is an increasing number of organized journeys to satisfy the curious traveler about other parts of the world, extra credit notwithstanding. Organizations like Smithsonian Journeys, National Geographic and Road Scholar offer curious travelers an opportunity to learn more while they’re visiting a new region.

For the younger set, there are a number of foreign exchange programs where kids can spend the school year abroad. Rotary Clubs here in Anchorage send kids around the world to live with local families, at the same time hosting kids from abroad.

Further, there are semester abroad programs in many colleges for students to attend school in other countries.

These options are great springboards to learn about different countries and different cultures. If you have the opportunity, seize it and get some stamps on your passport.


Even if you’re not on an organized program, what you’ll learn while traveling will stick with you.

On our recent trip to Tanzania, the in-your-face experience of seeing big animals in their natural surroundings took my breath away. You can read the books, watch the movies and listen to stories from friends. But seeing the animals in person makes a bigger impression.

While pictures of lions, elephants and zebras will fill up the scrapbooks, curious travelers will look beyond the game reserves and national parks. The people in the region represent a case study in resilience and adaptation.

Visiting with local people is a key component of the travel experience, I think. The curious traveler will encounter people who think differently, who speak a different language, who eat different food, who worship differently and see the world from a very different perspective.

Tanzania is the 30th country I’ve visited. Even though many of the people we met spoke English, which children learn in school, the country presented as my most “foreign” experience.

Our guide, Ima, turned off the highway between Arusha and the Mount Kilimanjaro Airport onto a dirt road. Not many roads in the country are paved. Some of the main roads in the national parks are graded regularly and filled in with gravel. Most of the roads in the Ngorogoro Crater and on the Serengeti Plain were similar to the Denali Highway or the McCarthy Road. Accordingly, every Land Cruiser has to have beefed-up suspension, tires, brakes and transmissions to handle the rugged conditions.

But the road to Ima’s village hadn’t been graded for a while. It was filled with ruts and potholes from a recent rainstorm. In fact, the rains had destroyed the road to a village we originally had planned to visit. Ima’s village of King’ori was Plan B.

There were four parts to our visit, offering some insight into daily life in the village. The first was a tour of the health clinic, staffed by a physician assistant. The clinic was spartan by Western standards. The biggest area was devoted to caring for pregnant moms, including a delivery room.

An electric line to the village meant the clinic could store and dispense vaccinations and immunizations. Electricity is not yet available to all homes.

The village hosted a barbecue, since Ima had purchased a goat in advance of our visit. Every bit of the goat was used in a variety of dishes, which included fresh vegetables from local plots. When we arrived, several of the men still were roasting some of the goat over an open fire.

As part of an ongoing conservation effort by our tour operator, we were invited to plant a couple of trees outside the village center. Deforestation is an ongoing problem, as timber still is harvested as a fuel source.

After our barbecue lunch with villagers, we set out for the final stop: Ima’s elementary school.

We piled back into the Land Cruisers that we used on the game drives through the nation parks. But the hard-scrabble path-road from the village to the school put the vehicles to an ample test.

Ima had to shove it into first gear and crawl over some of the worst ruts in the road. It would have made more sense to walk the mile and a half from the village.

I was shocked to see the school building once we arrived. There was a catchment system to get the rainwater from the roofs. There was no glass in the window panes or on the classroom doors. There was electricity just to one corner of the building: the principal’s office.

Another corner of the building had been turned into a kitchen to make lunch for the kids each day, complete with cooking fires. The ceiling and the top half of the exterior walls were stained black from the wood smoke.

We arrived during a summer break for the kids — but the school still is in use. Ima recalled getting a good education at the school. He went on to secondary school and college. But the physical layout of the building and the grounds was like no school I’d ever seen in a Western country.


The lack of infrastructure including electricity, roads and buildings seemed daunting to me. But to Ima and his family in King’ori, that was the everyday situation. And they are a joyous community. It’s not that they are indifferent to the particular struggles of such a life, or the government. Rather, they are thankful for their land, for bountiful harvests and for their families.

Throughout the country, the “hakuna matata” feeling is real. The phrase, made famous in “The Lion King” movie, literally means “take it easy” or “no worries.”

If there’s a lesson for a traveler here, perhaps it’s a prompt to take a cue from the people who dwell in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro. It’s not that roads, electricity and running water aren’t important. But remember the important things in life: your family, your community and an education for the kids.

I still pondered that joyous “hakuna matata” outlook as we bounced down the hill to the main road.

There were no extra credit points, but that’s the lesson I took home on my 31-hour flight back to Anchorage.

Scott McMurren

Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty destination sectors, among others. Contact him by email at Subscribe to his e-newsletter at For more information, visit