Interview with a Traveler
Frank Silvey grew up as an Army brat, living in cities all over the
world--Washington D. C., New York City, Tokyo and Rome.
Returning to the States after attending high school in Rome, he joined
the Navy just ahead of the Vietnam draft. He served on the aircraft
carrier Ticonderoga in the Pacific, visiting several Asian nations.
We went together to England and Italy, and later, he toured with the
Mansfield Chamber Singers, visiting Germany, Austria and the
Czech Republic. Heâ€™s one of the most sophisticated and best
traveled people I know, and I asked him a series of questions about
Q. What was it like growing up in a military
family--attending school in various parts of the globe?
A. It was different in different countries. In Tokyo, we lived on a
huge Army base that had its own school. I went to school with all
American kids and was taught by American teachers. Only after
school could I go out the gates of the base and have contact with
Japanese people. We went out and saw the sights and toured
various parts of the country, but we never could really enter into the
life of the country.
In Rome, I went to an international school with a half British and half
American faculty. We lived in an apartment, and I had Italian friends
from church and school. In daily life outside of school, I was among
regular Italian people as I shopped and toured, and learned the
language and the culture by living in it much more than I could in
Q. What kind of travel experience do people have in the
armed services? Tell me about the ports of the Pacific.
A. In the Navy, I was mostly on ships and bases. Port towns
usually were a lot more representative of their sailor clientele than of
the native culture. They were pretty much alike. Only by stepping
outside the immediate port area was I able to walk around in a
more typical Japanese or Filipino neighborhood. In addition to
Japan and the Philippines, I visited Hong King and Singapore.
Singapore offered the best experience when I was invited to visit in
the home of a British family that lived there. There were always
official and unofficial barriers to getting to know regular people in
port cities, including language, limited time, and fear of crime. Still,
there were some chances to see the real sights and life of the
countries, so I got more of a sense of their distinct cultures than if I
hadn't gone there.
Q. What are some advantages of travel?
A. The major advantage of travel is exposure to other ways of
life, to cultures with values, starting points and manners that differ
from the ones you grew up with. Seeing the differences in the way
people live and relate, even at the superficial level a brief visit
allows, can help break you loose from your habits of thinking and
the cultural assumptions that the way we grew up is the only right
Exposure to the art, architecture, landscapes and history of other
countries expands our knowledge of the world. The cliche that
travel is broadening is true, because it puts us in a situation where
an open mind can see and appreciate something different from what
weâ€™re accustomed to.
Q. How did you prepare to get the most from your travel?
A. The first thing to do is to learn basic phrases in the language
needed to get around--to ask for a glass of water or directions to
Reading about history and sites youâ€™ll be visiting in advance
allows you to appreciate what youâ€™re seeing more. As for
relations with people, the important thing is to learn the basic social
rules of the country, what is most polite and impolite. Be prepared
for things to be different, and be adaptable. Donâ€™t expect
things to be just like they were at home. Do as the Romans do. It
strikes me as a terrible waste of time, energy and money to travel
across the world if all you want to eat when you get there is the
same Big Mac that you could have gotten at home.
Q. What do you feel is the biggest mistake tourists make?
A. The biggest mistake is expecting another culture to conform
to what theyâ€™re familiar with at home -- expecting everyone to
speak English, for instance, rather than realizing that in this country
you're the foreigner who needs to make the effort to say as much
as you can in their language.
We need to have respect for other cultures and not set our own
habits as the standard. That's the basic open-minded approach that
allows us to gain some new understanding from the experience.