The Importance of Place

It’s so easy to travel the globe, but are we missing out on our local communities?

By: Kameron Toews

I’m from a South Dakotan town of 726 people, but I’ve had the opportunity to travel to the corners of the world in the last four years of college, with a year in Arkansas, three in Iowa, and a semester in Oman thrown in there too. I’ve spent summers in Indonesia, Michigan, and the upstairs of a friend’s house. Each one of these places holds remarkably special memories for me, but that also means my memories and relationships are scattered across the globe. I feel less connected to one certain place.

Sadly, I feel like connectivity is harder and harder to find in this global world. I become isolated in my apartment and struggle to venture out like I once did. I get comfortable and stop connecting with my “place.” Someone once told me to “be here now.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that little phrase.

Someone once told me to “be here now.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that little phrase.

Give students or travelers a map and they might have a hard time putting their finger on “home.” Many of my friends who have traveled on overseas missions or semesters abroad say they left a piece of their heart in that foreign place. It’s beautiful that we can connect to a place and people so deeply in such a little time. But with the increasing ease of world travel, are we really connected to where we are right now? I fear that we are spreading ourselves too thin.

How do you we connect to “place,” an abstract concept. For me it means truly understanding the local people, traditions, and nature. It’s taking an intentional step toward caring about your surroundings, leading to a love of your place and a connection that makes you feel at home.

Sometimes I wish I was back in Medieval days where there was often little need to venture away from family and home, when the daily routine was centered around local markets, gardens, and relationships. Cars and interstates have allowed us to see people on the other side of the country, but have also broken the strength of our local connections. I buy food grown in Florida, California, and overseas. I don’t know my Wal-Mart cashier. I commute 90 minutes if I want to see my siblings and 5 hours to see my parents. Modernization can pull us away from needing to know and care about our “place.” When life is kept local, home feels much more real.

Usually at college, I feel isolated from the town it’s centered in, but last year I experienced a taste of real “place.” The small size of Orange City, Iowa means that people are close, at least geographically. One day in particular, I felt like I belonged here when I stopped in to see some recent graduates living in a community house, walked to visit my past resident director, and finally made my way to the coffee shop where my good friends were studying. It was wonderful having so many great relationships so close together. It felt like real community.

Globalization is here. We’re in the age when thoughts and ideas are transmitted across the globe all seconds of the day. Being a part of this global, diverse community is awesome, but not to the extent where we forget we have neighbors down the street. If we invest in the people we are surrounded by right now, it doesn’t matter where in the world we are—we can find our purpose and community in whichever “place” we may be.

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