The traveller, then and now

by Terence MacNamee

The other day I was in Munich. Nothing too unusual about that; it is not far from Switzerland where I live. But it was an unusual experience, because I had been there forty years before and never since. What is it like to visit a place you saw once only briefly, the better part of a lifetime ago? Well, you find you have just about forgotten everything. Just here and there you may have a feeling that you recall a façade or a streetscape.

This time when I arrived, it was a summer’s day in Munich – exceptionally in October. I walked through the downtown from the Karlstor to the Marienplatz, then up the Residenzstrasse to the gate of the Hofgarten. I marvelled at the classical beauty and elegance of the place, and then the wild cool landscape of the English Garden on further.

Yet I felt an unavoidable sadness too. You see, I could appreciate the city as a mature person, and have an eye for all the details. But as a youth I was too unsure of myself to make the most of it. It was my first experience of language travel abroad, and it was such a waste, really, such a missed opportunity. I was so unequal to the task, unable to cope with the strange new environment. Perhaps that is why I stayed away for forty years afterwards, in spite of the fact that in the course of my adult life I have travelled to so many other places on three continents.

I came away from the new experience of Munich with a great desire. It is a desire to be of help to young people going abroad on language study trips. There is so much to do, so much richness to be got out of the experience, but they need to be guided and helped. That is what I want to do now. I resolved that if there is any way I can help young people make the most of language travel, I will.