I think we sometimes have two conflicting ideas of travel. One is personal travel, the romantic idea of going to an exotic location and exposing yourself to new flavors, sights and ways of thinking. Travel as a pause button on our often hectic lives, so we can refresh and re-enter the fray with a new sense of purpose.
The other is business travel, which for those of us in the social sector means cramped airline seats, quick trips to conferences held in look-alike hotel ballrooms and plenty of rubber chicken dinners. There are sparks of great ideas, but they are easily extinguished as you try to focus on both the session at hand and the unrelenting emails that drag you back to the office.
When I proposed to my staff that MCF lead an early childhood delegation of funders, practitioners, researchers and civic leaders to Sweden, I think many of them envisioned the business trip described above on steroids. What we got instead were the sparks of brilliance that business travel can bring enriched with the relationship building and wonder more often associated with personal travel.
What does it mean for kids in Minnesota?
In September 2015, 20 delegates – including funders, elected officials, professors, representatives from early childhood programs, members of MCF’s staff and others – traveled with me to Sweden. We spent five days meeting government officials to begin to understand the infrastructure and funding tied to Sweden’s world-renowned education system.
We also met university professors dedicated to educating the next generation of early childhood teachers, and we toured three types of pre-school programs to better understand the classroom experiences of Swedish children. The visits were thoughtfully curated by our tour guide in Sweden, and they gave us time to really dig in and ask questions to help us answer our most pressing question: What does this mean for kids in Minnesota?
While the official visits were critical, I think the moments that felt more like personal travel will endure. Walking through Old Town Stockholm to help a fellow delegate find just the right souvenir for her new grandchild while conversing about what outdoor preschool education looks like in Duluth. Standing together on a city bus and being asked politely but loudly to move from the baby carriage section, and realizing that society is very different when children and families are at the center. Sitting in a restaurant built in the 1300s on the grounds of Uppsala Cathedral and watching delegates with very different ideas of what early childhood should look like discover how much they actually had in common.
All of these experiences are what one delegate member, originally from Denmark, called hygge – the warm feeling of connection and hospitality that opens you up to new ways of being with each other. This space of hygge creates the conditions where trust, respect and mutual joy become the foundation for doing something very different in our local communities.
I believe experiential travel has an important place in our work. By leaving our little corner of the world and exploring what can be learned from a very different corner of the world, we grow and our communities are better off because of it. We get sparks of brilliance enriched with wonder and relationship. Säker resa!