It's 3 a.m. I'm still packing for a week-long business jaunt to France, Denmark and Sweden.
My flight leaves tomorrow afternoon (or, technically, later today), and as the night slips away, I'm starting to feel stuck in that purgatory between the discomfort of leaving all that is familiar and the excitement that awaits me in strange and mysterious lands on the other side of the ocean.
The bags are pretty much packed, but in some ways, I never feel prepared for an international trip, especially to a place I've never been before. There's always something else I can learn, some linguistic tidbit I might need, some food recommendation that could make the difference between a delicious meal and five hours in the can, some lodging tip that could separate rat-infested inns from trendy hostels.
I've traveled to China five times, but I've never been to Europe before. After my first trip to China, I started learning the language, guessing correctly that I'd be back many times. I don't speak a word of French, and I will land in Paris with admittedly little knowledge about the artistic and cultural treasures the city holds. [Insert jealousy-induced boos and hisses here.] I probably know even less about Denmark and Sweden, although I don't feel quite so guilty about that.
There's something great about being the expert in a place, the one that everybody turns to when they need to know which cultural snafus to avoid. I've been that guy in China, and it gives you a surprising sense of superiority and accomplishment.
But there's a bad side to this as well. If you think too highly about your own knowledge, you'll have little openness to all the new things happening right in front of you. Senses dulled, you'll be so engulfed in your opinion or leading the group that you lose that invaluable attribute that the traveler must have in order to achieve a transcendent experience: wonder.
In three countries over the next week, I'll be writing about international topics like biotechnology, climate change and entrepreneurship and how those reflect. But below the surface of meetings and interviews, my inexperience in these lands will ensure that the undercurrent of awe persists.
God's world is big. He says that he put people in the places where they live so that they could reach out to him and possibly find him. I can't think of anything I enjoy more than to observe how this great cosmic game of hide and seek plays itself out around the world.