I have always had the viewpoint that every situation is a learning opportunity.
~ Ginni Rometty, CEO IBM
LIFE IS A UNIVERSITY
We learn from each other.
When alone, we hear only ourselves – we hear our self-talk.
Many of us get to go to school. Others are not that fortunate and don’t get to go to school with a structured organized curricula.
In order to expand our mind we learn from each other. We must learn from each other.
So what do we learn?
If we go to school we are taught what someone else chose to teach us. Usually a committee of a certain bias, ideology or religion decides what we should learn. Elective schooling topics are not a common choice. Sadly, the choices of schooling are left to the political establishment that controls the school systems.
Some folks don’t want to learn. In that case their schooling choices are irrelevant. I met a few who can’t write. They can’t sign their name.
Literacy is not universal skill. Some folks are literally illiterate by their own choice.
Life Experience is rarely a subject taught in any school that I’m aware of. There is a rare college that teaches Life Skills as a curricular course. No Ivy League university confers a degree for life experience. I used to believe that going to school and earning a degree is the only key to success. I lived in my error for many years.
We can be self-taught. Being autodidacts is not an efficient way to learn. It’s more efficient to learn from the past experience of others.
At the other end of the panoramic human perspectives are many people who see learning opportunities everywhere. Least of all places they find their learning opportunities in an establishment accredited school.
These folks recognized that Life University exists all around them.
In recent years I realized that I’ve been attending one such Life University for over thirty years.
Where is my Life University?
I’m a registered frequent flyer on commercial airlines for over thirty years. For the last twenty-three years I commuted using commercial air-travel twice weekly. It adds up from ninety to one hundred airplane boarding, (or more), every calendar year.
It costs a bundle. But the benefits of doing it were rewarding.
All commercial airlines incentivize their customers to be their loyal frequent flyers.
The customer invests in his airline account by buying real flight tickets with real money. Then the loyal customer accumulates “miles” or “points”.
There are bank affiliated-credit cards and other opportunities for acquiring consumer goodies. In return the customer may get rebates, class of travel upgrades; “miles” earned that can be used for purchasing “stuff”. The airlines reward “miles” and “points” for every dollar spent using their bank affiliated credit cards. There are airline benefits to be given to their devoted customer – clubs – regular clubs – and… higher class clubs. (Even “mile high clubs”.)
Besides the financial costs in money spent on ticket purchase there is another expense and it is called – valuable time of life spent in airports.
Every method of travel costs time. Wasting time on common flight delays or worse than that, flight cancellations is immeasurable in terms of dollars.
Waiting at airport gates, because of flight delays or cancellations, costs irreplaceable human life.
Every frequent air traveler agrees that there is idle time going to waste.
So what do frequent flyers to do?
Every frequent flyer carries a laptop or a tablet. Frequent flyers read books. Watch movies. Watch YouTube. They try to do productive work like going through email.
They make business phone calls that are overheard by fellow-flying customers. Airlines’ clubs provide quiet office space and few provide a “Quiet Room” for deep rest and meditation. Despite all of that physical weariness reduces life and work productivity.
I’m always aware of my non-productive time wasted during air travel episode.
For years I kept asking myself what can I do to be productive in the airport during air travel wait-time. I found many things I can do. Some of them were mentioned above.
All forms of travel are transformational.
The intelligent flyer should be a mentally wakeful traveler.
When I recognized that travel is educational, I started to keep my eyes and ears open in the airports. I became wakefully aware of everything.
I recognized that travel is an educational experience, so I started to observe the architecture and resourceful engineering that is involved in construction and maintenance of airport terminals. Then there are the seasonal decorations to watch and take photos.
People watching are my most rewarding activity. I watch people in the airport. People watching mean the travelers and airport employees.
I take photos of anything I find interesting – anything that is stationary or anybody that is moving. I hardly go through an airport these days without posting on social media something odd or interesting that catches my eyes.
Get this: everything I encounter in an airport is now a learning experience to me. I regard airports as an ethnographic laboratory. I carry with me a spiral bound notebook where I note my observations.
Facts and Figures:
Until March 2020, I went twice weekly through O’Hare airport in Chicago. In the calendar year 2018, more than 79 million passengers passed through this airport. Divided by 365 days – over 216,000 passengers on the average went through the airport every day.
On an average day 9,000 passengers were going through every hour!
Those passengers are coming and going to and from every corner of the world, of every age group, of any gender. They are each clothed differently. Different face coverings… Their skin colors are different. Different nose shapes, earrings and footwear…. Different hair styles… They carry different objects. They travel with their cats and dogs. They travel with their children. Some children are crying on the plane and off the plane. When the children cry, they cry loudly.
What if I had a chance to talk to them and find out something about who they are.
What if a stranger in the airport tries to talk to me?
I ask what book they read. (A relatively safe question to ask a stranger…). What’s the model of their cellphone? Are they having a tight connection? What gadget are they using to take pictures outside the plane window? (That’s how I first learned about the GoPro camera).
Major airlines provide a lounge to their loyal customers. For a fee that is. Nothing is free… But the customers can pay with their saved frequent flyer “miles”. What you get in the lounge is a relatively quiet atmosphere, personal work areas, and conference rooms. There is access to printing and fax services and Wi-Fi. But that’s just clerical stuff.
Food or light snacks are served and alcoholic drinks offered for a fee. There are newspapers, magazines or light promotional life-style periodicals. What’s in the magazines? Opportunities. Ideas how to spend money on fancy gadgets. Where to go on luxury trips, and visit exotic places around the globe that only few know where their location are. There are ideas for investments, advanced education, corporate leadership and sales training courses. What’s available is available is mostly free, except the booze.
You meet new people who are generally frequent flyers and may want to engage in conversation. Maybe some business deals are followed through.
Lessons in Living Ethnography.
Get this. Because about 9,000 passengers were going through the airport every hour, then when you’re stuck for 4 hours because of flight delays you can meet 28,000 new “nomadic teachers”. You can meet potential business partners, customers, deal seeker or quick romantic dates. Yes, there is such a thing as the proverbial “mile high club” in the skies.
I take photos of strange looking travelers, and unusual human situations. Today, I walk through O’Hare’s terminals with my cell phone at hand ready to shoot photos of bizarre scenes or travelers.
Accidental Aeronautics 101 Course.
I have done over 2,200 airplane flight boarding on commercial aviation services and listened to inflight captains’ technical explanations and excuses as to why the flight is cancelled or delayed or requires mechanical last-minute repair. I’ve gained industry’s passive ‘expertise’ in planes flight worthiness.
During the flight, I use my idle time to read. I complete Sudoku puzzles. I read, and then I write notes. I edit my perpetual “to do list”…
While airborne some years ago a passenger seated next to me was immersed in reading a book. I peeked sideways. The title was – ‘The Da Vinci Code’. That was the page turner for the era.
During one of my flights a man seated next to me was wearing a Sikh head cover. He was reading a book that I could tell is some form of Hindu like characters. I asked him what language it is and he gladly told me that it is Bengali language. To me Bengali and Hindu look alike… He continued to explain that it is a poetry book by Rabindranath Tagore. And there he showed me Tagore’s portrait.
I was happy to tell him that I heard of Tagore who was the first non-European poet-philosopher to be awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. If you haven’t heard of Tagore read the entry bearing his name in Wikipedia.
While I mention books, Barbara’s Book Store has three outlets at the airport. When getting stuck one time because of a lengthy flight delay I bought practical books of interest.
Ethos of the University of Life
Disclaimer: the following text was authored by my doppelganger – my AI agent.
My University of Life is a half hour drive from home. The University of Life has runways. Some are surrounded by corn fields, or flat Midwest pastures. In the University of Life we learn lessons on how to deal with people. How to make new friends. How to build relationships. How to work with everyone. We see things in the raw turn into art. We see poor people, rich people, and middle class people trying to make their way in this world. We meet budding politicians at the airport and we recognize them long before we saw their faces on television.
We meet celebrities who are always willing to pose for a joint photo.
At one time I met the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Jr.. Another time I met Steve Harris, all were eager to pose for me.
The University of Life is an airport with people who are traveling. As university students they are constantly on the move, growing and learning from experience. The University is a place where you can apply life concepts to real life situations.
The airport as a university campus is a polytechnic, with a workshops and labs, where we learn airport architecture, engineering, airport operations. We learn airplane models and construction. We learn from the pilots flying conditions, directions and air-worthiness. We learn about the mechanics and design of planes, and how to navigate and maintain them. We learn everything we need to know about airplanes from the pilots who fly them every day.
The airport is a place of education. It’s an environment where you learn all there is to know about the aviation industry. Here, you’ll pick up on weather patterns, airplane models, and air-worthiness. You’ll be able to study each new plane that lands with ease for this new knowledge will come naturally.
The University of Life is a collection of real and intellectual property that assist in the process of learning from travel. A certificate from this university is never revoked as it is a forever record of opportunity travel experiences. It documents international travel experiences. The goal of the projects is to learn what it means to be a citizen of this planet.
Waiting at the airport is the period to think. It’s an opportune time to meditate. We learn languages by listening to travelers speak in their native tongue. It is also a place to which we can come and go at any time.
The University of Life is an unmatched learning experience. We encourage everyone to take the lessons learned and use it to improve their lives. It doesn’t matter if we acquire them at a college degree program or the University of Life. We must learn from observation, testing and occasional failure.
You learn how to travel on your own. We want you to gain the skills that let you go everywhere on your own. We are not interested in making “students”. You learn to be skilled travelers. Our classes teach you the mechanics of travel, which will lead you to learn about physics, which will give insight into the universe. By learning about the Big Bang, the formation of solar systems, other galaxies, and life beyond our earth, you will become a better traveler.
Our goal is to teach you about the world. To equip you with the practical skills that can help you travel to different countries, speak foreign languages, laws & rules, cultural customs. We will also teach you how to take trips without money.
We are not interested in mass production of clones, but rather providing development for humans who will be able to go places on their own.
Freedom to go independently is the essence of our existence.
We want you to be able to travel abroad on your own, during and after graduation. The main aim of this perpetual MBA program is a small batch assembly of human beings. This will help you develop skills necessary to go places on your own. A large number of students who come here are interested in international trade, large firms that do business globally, and various other fields that cater to clients worldwide. The airport offers an experiential MBA program.
The first goal is to inspire you to be more curious about the world. To help you learn how to travel with an open mind. If you are interested in learning to speak foreign languages – you will understand what makes people tick in different countries.
Our second goal is to help you by showing you the world. We teach you how to plan a trip, how to pack for your trip, how to navigate a new city, and yes, even how to order from a foreign menu.
The airport is not a place you would go to enjoy the joy of flying or to relax and unwind; it is a place that will demand your attention and effort.
We are all learning how to live our lives by going through life lessons each day. Lessons in ethnography, business, engineering, relationships, compassion, communications, and law and order.
It’s all about never-ending discovery of life’s infinite secrets.
Mandy stands on a floatplane wing in Alaska
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