For Brenden Bish, 28 year-old international poet and professional student, learning is a way to tune into eternity.
“You never stop learning,” says Brenden. “You can learn so many different things under the sun, so you can learn something and be humbled by each new thing. And each lesson is just one tiny piece of the whole expanse of human knowledge, so I really strive to learn something new in every moment.”
We are seated in a small coffee shop in Kiryu on a Sunday afternoon, sharing coffee, cheesecake, and conversation.
“I have been to over 20 countries,” Brenden remarks between bites of cake. “I’ve been to every continent but Australia so far, and there are a lot of places I still haven’t made it to yet.”
When he said this, I asked him, why Japan now? Why not a different country?
To this, Brenden gave a simple answer:
“I am here to learn about two things,” he says. “One, I want to learn more about the culture and people of Japan. But also I am trying to discover more of who I am, since I have lineage that comes from Japan.”
Brenden’s grandmother on his mother’s side was born and raised in Tokyo, and he still has a branch of the family that lives there.
“At the moment, I don’t feel confident enough in my Japanese to reconnect with my family over here,” says Brenden. “But one of my goals for 2019 is to overcome that obstacle, that’s for sure.”
In addition to communicating with his family in the Land of the Rising Sun, he also tries to keep in touch with his family and friends in America and other parts of the world.
“With modern technology,” says Brenden “it’s pretty difficult not to stay connected in some way. Usually I use apps like Line and WhatsApp, but I am also a big proponent of writing letters.”
“Writing letters, to me, is something that’s much more real and genuine, so they mean a little more than a simple text message. In a letter, there is no place for small chats like a text, so I find them to be much better in communicating how I feel.”
In a way, this allows Brenden to keep in touch with himself as much as it does those important to him, and he also has had many travel experiences that have brought him realizations about himself.
A Self Outside of Oneself
Recently, in the end of December, Brenden took the time to travel to the Philippines with his friend Phil. During their time there, they interviewed the widow and brother of a man who died saving other people from a fire, and they were also privileged with the opportunity to see this man’s home, children, and everyday life.
“This was the first time that I have traveled for a purpose like this” says Brenden. “Phil is working to establish a scholarship in the name of this man, Melvin, so he wanted me to help interview this man’s family to learn more about him.”
“Initially, the goal was to tell the story of Melvin from his widow and his brother, but we finished that on Day 1. After that, we had a lot of time on our hands, and we were presented with the opportunity to meet the rest of his family on the nearby island of Samal.”
“This was something that happened as a spur-the-moment decision” says Brenden. “but we were still able to combine the two goals of our time in the Philippines: see new places and chronicle the story of Melvin.”
Unfortunately, the duo were unable to meet with Melvin’s family due to communication and technological issues, but that did not stop them from enjoying their time in Samal.
“Many of my experiences were eye-opening,” says Brenden. “One day, Phil and I were walking down the street and we passed by an alley, and, upon seeing it I said, ‘We have to go down that alley.’ Phil protested at first, but eventually we went down there and we found a group of kids playing basketball. We joined in, and soon there was a 2 vs. 8 game of basketball between Phil & me and the rest of the kids. There were too many kids for us to win, but we still got to engage with the community and see life in the Philippines.”
“When we passed that alley, I didn’t know what was at its end,” says Brenden, “but all I could think was, ‘That is where life is.”
Where Life Is
To have Brenden tell it, traveling is what keeps the heart young.
“For me, the most motivating thing to keep traveling is the sense of wonderment that I can find in even the smallest and most mundane things,” he says. “I think that as you grow older you lose the ability to be astonished and intrigued by the world around you, but traveling, I have found, keeps that sense of wonderment burning inside me. Each and every journey has me feeling like a kid on an adventure.”
Part of that adventure is always immersing himself in the culture of wherever he may find himself, and Brenden always tries his best to dive as deep into the culture as he can.
“From my experiences abroad I have learned that the biggest difference between simply visiting a place and genuinely experiencing it comes down to how much you immerse yourself,” says Brenden. “There have been times when I traveled to a country for a week with a friend, and while I would just dive right into everything the country had to offer, my friend would stay locked into their phone, missing the world around. In most of those cases, I walked away with some incredible experiences while my friend, who was a bit inhibited in the immersion, didn’t get as much from it as I did.”
“And, even more than that, living and breathing in the culture is the best way to get that in-depth immersion.”
Living and Learning in Culture
In that last 10 years, Brenden has lived away from Bridgeport, Connecticut, his hometown, many times, from nearby places like New Hampshire to far-off destinations such as Chile and, most recently, Japan. And whenever he moves to a new place, Brenden learns everything he can about the culture, especially the language.
“Language, to me, is a way to put yourself in the mind of the people who live somewhere,” says Brenden. “When you know the language, and you can move around, communicate, and construct a thought in the same way as the people around you, that makes a world of difference when you are traveling.”
Learning lessons is the most consistent aspect of travel, though some lessons are more impactful than others. For Brenden, the largest lesson he has taken from his travels has, and always will be, the perspective that he gained.
“Many revelations, big and small, have come my way during my travels,” says Brenden, “but one of the most meaningful ones came to me while I was in Peru. I had just completed a climb up to Machu Picchu, and because I had a bus to catch I had basically sprinted down the mountain to make it in time. I made it to the bus by the skin of my teeth in every sense of the word. I was exhausted, sore, had no more money with me, and I had to use my credit card to pay for the bus ticket. Sitting on the bus, I was stewing in my feelings, throwing myself a one-man pity party and kicking myself for being so senseless in my plans. While I sat there, a group of kids walked by, and they were in a much poorer state than my own.”
“Here I was sitting in the first seat on the train to go back to my hotel in another city, and these kids were walking back home dirty with clothes that they could barely afford looking at the foreigner at the front of the train. To them, I was living the life. And in that moment, I realized something: Rarely will you situation be the worst. Sure, I may have been in a tight spot, but I still had a bed to sleep in and adventures to go on. Since then, I really have done my best to keep that sense of perspective, especially when I’m traveling.”
What Traveling is All About
As a professional student and world traveler, Brenden Bish is always learning, and he has no intentions of stopping any time soon. He will continue to travel, learn lessons, and share those lessons with his companions and compatriots through his poetry, writing, and spoken words. Which is what traveling is all about.
Which is what traveling is all about.
If you likes this interview and you want to learn and hear more from Brenden, check out his you tube channel, Balanc3, where he writes and shares poetry and meaningful insights about travel and self-expression.
Are you too an expatriate? Would you like to be interviewed? Leave a comment below!
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Song of the Week
“Rise Up (feat. Nelson Mandela)” by Stargate
For Brenden, this song was his Song of the Month, and he even featured it in his most recent YouTube video. When I asked him for a comment, he left a simple one: “I’ll just leave it at the recommendation and say that it’s a great song with a great message.”
If you would like to listen to this song or any of the other prior Songs of the Week, check out the Spotify Playlist linked above!