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Teachings from Travel: In the Wake of Coronavirus

Culture shock is defined as the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes. Is this happening to you right now? Me too! Instead of getting on a plane, we stayed put and the world has changed around us.

After traveling for a year with my family, I looked at my home in Victoria, BC Canada, through a different lens. Some things I loved and desperately missed, however I also wondered what we could do differently. Travel gives us the opportunity to learn from others, to re-look at our lives and what we want from it. Coronavirus is providing us this same opportunity to pause and reflect.

When I first heard the US was hit by coronavirus, I got instantly worried. Italy was devastated, and they are healthier than Americans. This will not be good.

Diabetes rates, according to the Diabetes Education Services, in America (9.6%) is substantially higher than that of Italy’s (5.5%), and obesity rates are over triple (31% vs. 9%). Canadians, according to Stats Canada, also have room for improvement with diabetes rates of 7.3% and 26.8% obesity rate.

Italians eat carbs, drink wine and don’t go to the gym. Italian’s love themselves, and their bodies but don’t obsess about what they are eating and how much they are working out. The difference? It’s their culture, way of life and how their cities are constructed.

Here are some more comparisons to ponder:

* Canadians, we are basically same-same as Americans, you're not off the hook. Listen up!

Most of this isn’t shocking. What may shock you, however, is how much the average Canadian or American would change if they lived in Italy. They would start adapting without thinking about it too much.

In North America, we do not set people up for success. Instead, we expect everyone to make life altering changes within a social, cultural and physical infrastructure that does not conduce itself to a healthy lifestyle.

So what could we do?

  • Government: Subsidize farmers into producing high quality, healthy foods at affordable rates. I’m talking environmentally conscious, humane treatment of animals, and more food that is higher in nutritional value. Feel free to tax the crap out of junk to pay for this. Sort of like what we do for cigarettes.

  • Restaurant Owners: use high quality ingredients, provide healthy options and reduce portion sizes.

  • Urban planners: Create cities you can walk and ride your bike in easily. Create neighbourhoods with small markets (that sell fresh produce), green parks and paths, piazzas, and playgrounds. While you’re at it, please put sanitary water stations everywhere. If people have places they can walk to within 20-30 minutes they would do more of it. This will support buying local and increase a sense of community.

  • Influencers: Create a see and be seen at markets, walking, biking or outdoor yoga culture - find routes that have cool street art, a beautiful waterfront, interesting architecture, lush parks - get people out and about.

  • Employers: Change work hours to be more health conscious. This means proper lunch breaks, reasonable expectations of productivity (which translates to reasonable amounts of stress), time for family… this will be better for your business and our economy.

  • You: Prioritize and value yourself. Choose quality over quantity. Enjoy meals with friends and family that linger. Drink better quality wine, but have less of it. Cook homemade meals more often. Go for a walk after supper.

Need some homemade cooking inspiration? Here's a free Italian chef cooking class!

One of the beautiful outcomes of Coronavirus is how much we have come together as a community. We check-in with our neighbours, say hi and wave to people as we take a stroll, we come together at 7pm to make noise of appreciation for our front line workers. There are ways in which we can better facilitate the continued growth of our community, outside our home.

In Spain, two thirds of the population live in flats. This makes Spaniards the lowest percentage of house-dwellers, according Eurostat. Because Spaniards do not have extensive spaces to host and congregate, they make better use of their common space to come together as a community.

Their Piazzas are like a bigger, better second living room. Often, there is live music playing and people dancing. Friends gather at the local café to enjoy a beverage on the outdoor patio to watch the fútbol game. After school, parents take their kids to the local square, which is equipped with a playground for the kids and lined with cafés for the adults to enjoy a coffee or drink with other friends before going home for a late supper.

After being cramped in our houses, how many of us have looked at our square footage and found new and better ways to use the space? In my home, we recently turned our garage into an extra bedroom and den. A friend of mine turned her large closet into an office so she could work from home.

In Japan, the average person lives in 240 sqft. They are efficient with their use of space, being creative with multi-functional pieces. In the little flat we rented in Tokyo, the back of the toilet was a sink. After flushing the toilet, fresh water would pour through the sink for you to wash your hands before it continued to re-fill the toilet bowl. I was blown away by the simple ingenuity of it.

Japanese minimalist style has clean lines. They appreciate negative space and are conscious about creating this space. If something does not ‘spark joy’, they do not hold onto it. Imagine what we could do with all the space we use for storing things we NEVER see or use.

Need some inspiration for your spring cleaning project? Watch (Netflix) or read Marie Kondo's books.

While in South Africa, we took a street-art walking tour. It blew my mind. The incredible talent, the magnificent art and the creative use of the surroundings, was spectacular.

Street art can bring bleak neighbourhoods to life, create conversations, bring hope, or call out injustice. It’s also free and accessible, for everyone to enjoy.

Since Coronavirus, there has been so much more time and space dedicated to creative endeavors. People appreciate and depend on art to connect, to uplift, to relate, to grieve, and to reflect. We need more art. We need people to have the freedom and time to make it and we need it to be widely available.

Need some Inspiration? Take this free graffiti class.

The handshake, perhaps now to be known as the deathshake, was established in the 5th century in what is believe to have originated as a gesture of peace by demonstrating that the hand holds no weapon.

Perhaps it is time to adopt other forms of greetings that don’t involve touching. The bowing gesture in Thailand, known as wâi is a way to say hello, goodbye, thank you or sorry. You put your hands together and dip your head to varying levels depending on the amount of respect required to the recipient. It’s beautiful, it’s warm and genuine, and it won’t pass on germs.

While traveling for a year, we could only bring and use whatever fit into one suitcase. This taught me what very little I truly needed. Also, how little babies actually need.

Before coronavirus hit, many of us couldn’t imagine scaling back on our consumption patterns. From eating out, to our shoe collections, or how many cars we needed and the number of flights we took each year. We have been forced to slow down and reevaluate.

Many of us have been forced to admit, that things could be done differently. That there are a lot of things we could do without. Also, that there are some things we miss and do not want to give up.

If we all consumed less, how would that affect our economy? Reducing people’s need to buy stuff will slow down the rate of production. This will reduce climate pressure, as we have already seen. It also means less jobs to go around but it also means there is less need for such a high wages. Therefore, a re-distribution of work could provide less time under stressful work environments (shorter work-weeks) and a more balanced life. Maybe, just maybe it's a possibility... AND... maybe, it's exactly what we need.


In Conclusion...

It’s time for a change. How do I know? Our health is suffering, our environment is ready to tap-out on us and according to too many studies to count, we are unhappy.

We have an opportunity rarely given. I hope we can rise from the ashes of this pandemic, learn from each other and uplift ourselves and our communities.


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