"Those who are cautious need to be encouraged to take risks and to make inferences based upon the words they have managed to identify. Natural risk-takers need to be encouraged to check their guesses against new evidence as it comes in from the speaker. And all learners need to be shown that making guesses is not a sign of failure: it is a normal part of listening to a foreign language"
('The Changing Face of Listening', by John Field, English Teaching Professional 6 1998)
"Natural risk-takers". The idea that some of us are naturally predisposed to a life of risk.
As a traveller, I often reflect on situations where I ought to have made different choices than I did. Should I have hopped in that car with the man who worked in the Underground in London? Should I have drank that mysterious cloudy alcohol in Turkey, given to me by a person whose name I didn't know? Should I have slept alone in all those airports? Should I have had that Chai tea with that stranger in Kuala Lumpur? Should I have pulled out my camera and taken that photo of the 'no photo' sign at the border? Should I have gotten on that bus without checking that it was the right one, not knowing it would drop me off in the dark next to a garbage dump at midnight? Should I have made those choices? Should I have taken those risks?
Should you really have trusted me with all your worldly belongings?
Maybe I shouldn't have gotten drunk with my roommate and spontaneously booked that one-way ticket to London back in 2006. Maybe I shouldn't have gone to Korea without knowing anything more than the voice of my boss. Maybe I shouldn't have held my camera in one hand while trying not to fall on that slippery border crossing above a rushing river. Maybe I shouldn't have had that lemon shake that tasted a bit funny. Maybe I shouldn't have sat on the stairs of that train carriage.
Maybe I shouldn't have talked to that guy at that party.
But, what if?
If I hadn't booked that ticket to London, I wouldn't have travelled those 22 countries in 4 months, and I wouldn't have learned that I could travel alone. If I hadn't gone to Korea, I wouldn't have spent 4 of the happiest years of my twenties making friendships and memories that will last my lifetime. If I hadn't filmed that border crossing, I wouldn't remember how unsafe that bridge actually was. If I hadn't had that lemon shake I wouldn't have gotten traveller's diarrhea... okay so that was one risk I shouldn't have taken, but it was so thirst-quenching! If I hadn't sat on the stairs of the train carriage I wouldn't have dropped my purse and leaped off the moving train (James Bond style) to get it, but I also wouldn't have learned that a train in Burma will stop for that one idiot traveller who jumped off.
If I hadn't talked to that guy at that party, I wouldn't be sitting in this airport lounge now, with him at my side, waiting to board this plane to Boston.
In language learning, in travel, in life, we take risks every day. We have heard that getting in a car presents more risk than boarding a plane.
I'm not encouraging wannabe travellers to adopt a risk-taking attitude, or that natural risk-takers make better travellers. No, not at all. What I am saying is that our lives are made up of the sum of our experiences. And the experiences that we have are, sometimes, the direct result of the choices we make. Risk-taker or cautious, we are all making choices every day that shape the direction of our lives.
While we're getting deep, I'll also share that I suffer from overconfidence, a trait that can make or break a person, almost literally. Over the years, and throughout my travels, I have tried to keep my confidence in check, and to recognize when a particular situation merits more logical reflection than an impulsive choice. As I inch closer and closer to my thirtieth birthday, (pause for reaction), I am learning to balance my personal, educational, and professional life with my natural tendency to throw all my eggs in one basket, or (more literally) throw all my savings into a 6-month trip through South America. Trying to see the whole damn world while keeping my head on straight.
It is gonna take more than a few risks to get me there, or perhaps it will just take a few more cancelled flights.