Ways of Seeing: Global citizenship has benefits
After a year’s hiatus due to COVID, our family resumed our annual family trip this past January. While last winter travel was virtually impossible (unthinkable!) this year it was just a lot more difficult. We had long ago come to the conclusion that as Americans we make international travel needlessly difficult for ourselves, and COVID has only exacerbated it.
International travel is difficult enough: finding cheap tickets, flight times in the middle of the night, 12-hour layovers in airports with seats made to purposefully thwart napping. Security measures are different in every airport, and angry TSA agents are always shouting at you for not knowing the precise protocols for the airport you happen to be flying through.
These are universal challenges. We knew going into our trip to Egypt that things would be more difficult because of Covid. We would have to have masks on the entire trip. We had to organize getting tested before our return flight. What we didn’t realize was that as Americans every step would be made more difficult than it needed to be.
Most places will not recognize our vaccine cards as a legal document. They are just a piece of paper, some with handwritten entries on them. Other countries have electronic vaccine cards, with a QR or barcode attached to them, that are available on their smartphones so they can be scanned at the airport.
Countries want either proof of vaccination, or a negative test result to enter, but these tests must have a scannable QR code as well so the airports can verify them. There is only one place in Vermont that is administering this type of Covid test, and they cost $250 each.
This seemed exorbitant so we checked with the Egyptian consulate and found we could send our vaccine cards to them and get them “legalized.” This more affordable option got our cards back stapled to a document written in Arabic with several stamps on it. However, this is only good for Egypt. Anywhere else we will encounter the same problem of our vaccine cards not being recognized.
We managed to organize all this with only a few days of high anxiety, and we arrived at the airport ready to depart. For a moment in JFK we thought we wouldn’t be able to leave after all as Turkish airlines (we were flying through Istanbul) didn’t accept these vaccine cards “legalized” by Egypt. We spent an agonizing amount of time downloading an app and scanning our vaccine cards and in the end we made it to Egypt!
Once there, several of the other (non-COVID related) difficulties of traveling as Americans once again became apparent. Every other country uses a cell phone system with SIM cards, so people can bring their phone with them, buy a SIM card for the country they are traveling to, and use their phone on the local network.
As Americans, without this capability, and unwilling to pay the steep international fees to use our phones abroad, we had to rely on spotty wifi to connect and send messages. Travelers from Europe and other places were easily able to use google maps to navigate while exploring, Apple pay to purchase things and to call local numbers to order taxis or Ubers, while we were out of luck when out of the hotel and without wifi. There is also the constant conversion when talking to anyone else about distances or temperatures from Fahrenheit to Celsius, and from miles to kilometers.
People are always interested in where you are from, and ask how cold it gets in the winter, or how far Vermont is from New York City, but to answer in U.S. terms doesn’t mean anything to them. We are constantly using our phones as calculators (which does work, even without wifi) as no one else in the world uses the same system as we do.
Our tests required on return were so easy to organize in Egypt. We had someone come to our hotel, take our swabs, and email the results to us with a QR code attached. All we had to do was show this at the airport. While these tests weren’t free, they were very inexpensive.
We have a habit as a huge country with very few neighbors of always looking inward. Americans generally are very self-absorbed. Many things we see as normal are actually unique in the world. It is always eye-opening to see the differences when you travel abroad in the way other places are more outward-looking. If we looked to other countries we could find examples of solutions to problems, or ways of handling issues we face in our society, yet we go about trying to solve our problems like no one else exists.
I hope the day will come when we are willing to open our eyes and look out at the world and become global citizens.
Claire Corkins grew up and lives in Bristol and studied Human Ecology at College of the Atlantic in Maine. After college she worked abroad teaching English as a second language. She currently works with her father in such various endeavors as painting houses, tiling bathrooms, building porches, and fixing old windows. She hikes, reads, plays ice hockey, travels, and wishes she could wear flip flops all year round.
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