They were off on a historic adventure, expecting to be awed by the moon and the stars, but instead they found themselves looking back, overwhelmed by a deep sense of fragility and unity. The astronauts of Apollo 8 were experiencing overview effect, an overwhelming cognitive shift in awareness they experienced when they viewed earth from space for the first time. Looking back at the glowing orb hanging in space, they felt nationalistic allegiances fade and instead a growing hope for one humanity; one world connected.
I've never been to space, but I have experienced this myself in many less dramatic moments. The overview effect was coined from the astronaut's experience in space but can other forms of travel have similar effects?
It was my first trip to Mexico, visiting a friends family in the countryside near Guadalajara; "remember my people," the woodcarver kindly commanded. I knew it wasn't just a polite request to remember Mexico, it was a request for his family, his kids, his friends in the US, who had left, rendering Amarillo Mexico a living ghost town of the elderly and children. He didn't express any of this to me verbally, but I could feel the love and the sadness he felt for his family far away, who would probably never return. He set down his wood burning tool, and smoothed the delicate script he had carved into the small rectangular key chain with his hand, brushing off the chips and dust of the carving. He gently passed me the key chain, my name carved beautifully on one side. Turning it over, I found a stallion's head wearing a ribbon, mane blowing in the wind, with a delicate border of triangular shapes dancing around the edge.
It's been years and much of the trip has faded. I'm not in contact with the friends I traveled with anymore. I barely remember the pyramids we climbed and the beaches we visited. I don't even remember why they took me to see the woodcarver or even his name, but I still have the keychain and I still remember his heartfelt request.
Almost 10 years later I found myself back in Mexico, studying abroad just south of Mexico City, in Cuernavaca. It took a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the light in the cement brick house, there was no overhead lighting, only the daylight filtering in through the doorway and the colorful prayer candles flickering in the corner. It was sparsely furnished but the dirt floor was swept clean and a bouquet of flowers adorned a table, underneath family photos hung on the wall above. Maria, our host, explained that before her husband had left to work in the US they had lived in a house made of cardboard and tin in a shantytown nearby. It's been hard," she said, "he cannot come back, it's too dangerous and costs too much money to go over again." She shared how they had been able to purchase the house with what he made in the US. I could tell she loved her house; the tin roof and concrete walls kept her kids warm at night. Unfortunately the cost was her husband living in a different country.
These, among many other travel experiences, have changed how I view the world and have had a similar effect on me as the astronauts had in space. What I'm calling the "travel effect," has moved me to have more compassion for other people, especially immigrants, and has given me more hope and awareness for our world, instead of merely our nation.
So can the "travel effect" save the world? For me, it has sparked a greater sense of connection with humanity and our earth and that is something this world desperately needs more of.
Have you experienced this "travel effect?" If so, please share in the comments below, I would love to hear from you, and watch the video below on the Overview Effect, it's phenomenal!
Keeping it wild,