A Curmudgeon Abroad

By most standards, I’ve lived an isolated life.  My last time out of the country was a fishing trip to Canada in 1979…when I was 10 years old.  Even by domestic standards, I haven’t zipped across that much of the U.S.  I’ve never been to NYC, never set foot on the beaches of Hawaii, never absorbed the southern California sun, and never felt the rains of the Pacific Northwest.  I’m not a total rube, however.  Boston, New Orleans, Memphis, and San Francisco stickers adorn my suitcase, and of course I’ve hit all the big cities close to home.

But when my fiancée suggested we travel to Sweden, to visit our daughter who studies abroad in the small college town called Växjö, I hesitated.  Actually, I resisted.  The very idea of climbing onto one of those pressurized metal tubes and flinging myself across the Atlantic Ocean at 600 mph terrified me.  The inconveniences of going through security and customs intimidated me.  All I wanted to do with this upcoming vacation was sit in the house, drink beer, write a little, and play my guitar.

But the secret to any healthy relationship is compromise, and by “compromise” I mean doing what my fiancée wants  me to do.  So I went.

I don’t know how different I would be had I studied abroad when I went to college (my school didn’t offer it in the early ’90’s).  I don’t know how different I’d be if I worked in an industry that shuttled me all over the planet to conduct my business.  But given the fact that this one trip–first to Sweden, then to London–proved massively transformative (for both amazing and awful reasons), I can honestly say that not traveling for the first 50 years of my life has impacted me greatly.

Of course, the world is a very different place when you leave somewhere like Indiana.  But what astounded me the most was the ways that it wasn’t that different at all.  I left my home a grumpy curmudgeon.  I came back a young man of sorts…sorts.  Changed.  Awakened.  Humbled.  Angered, even.

Here is my story.

A Wall of Alien Noise–Click to Read

I didn’t have to know any Swedish to get along in the country.  But forcing the Swedes to speak to me in my language made me realize how intellectually fat and sluggish life in the U.S. has made me.

Why Trains Are Better Than Cars–Click to Read


In Sweden, I saw the kind of transportation system we would probably have here in Indiana had we not dismantled it in order to sell cars and build Interstate highways.  It’s a choice with a far-reaching impact, one that often keeps me home rather than traveling around the state.


The Myths of Swedish Socialism


I can’t tell you what’s different between a visit to a Swedish or American doctor.  I can tell you, however, that when I hear Americans use the word “socialism” to describe places like Sweden, they’re getting it wrong.  Both sides are getting it wrong.

What Sweden Taught Me About Race


I have always considered myself a tolerant, open-minded progressive.  Life in the United States perpetuated that myth, allowing me to remain ignorant of my biases, especially those regarding race.  But my first day in Sweden ripped that illusion to shreds.


Heartbreak at Abbey Road

Standing at Abbey Road does create a slight connection to that moment fifty years ago, but it also demonstrates Time’s power to wall us off from history.


Falling Victim to the Artful Dodger

Maybe if the thieves hadn’t pick-pocketed Wendi’s purse, my feelings about London would be different.  The fact remains, however, that they did.  London, consequently, proved a rotten place to visit.

My Relationship with Air Travel


Donovan Wheeler
Author: Donovan Wheeler

Wheeler proudly teaches English to a horde of bright and lovably obnoxious high school seniors in a small college town. He has written in the past for Indiana on Tap and STATE Magazine, and is an occasional contributor to NUVO, Indy's alternate news website. Since picking up the guitar three years, he can now play a dozens songs while singing them quite badly.

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