Mt. Fuji

The Coming of Age of an Overexcitable Globetrotter

There’s nothing quite like travel to spin up an intense person.  It’s a powerful opportunity for learning, fantasy, and feeling; it also tends to involve lots of foreign sensations and unusual physical activity, from hours wedged in economy class to the sudden quadrupling of steps walked per day.

If you’re familiar with Kazimierz Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration, you know I just touched on all five areas of overexcitability (OE).  And if OEs are essentially “reactions of excitation that are over and above average in intensity, duration, and frequency” (Dabrowski, 1996), then the overexcitable traveler will surely find that her journeys provide a particularly acute opportunity for excitement, panic, exhaustion, solemnity, and wonder, in no particular order.  If you’re traveling with an overexcitable child, you might be forgiven for thinking this isn’t necessarily a positive trait.  If excitability is the magma inside of each of us, travel might well bring on an eruption better compared to the ancient Mt. Vesuvius than the modern Mt. Fuji.

And yet, Dabrowski did argue that overexcitability could propel people through personality development.  As I reflect on my own travels, I think I can see why.

Though it was probably kind of rough on my parents.

I usually say that the most important word to learn if you’re traveling to a place where you don’t speak the language is “thank you” because of all the people who will help you on your path.  But if you’re traveling with a ten-year-old with sensory OE, the word “ice cream” might win out.

My first trip off the North American continent was a long-planned family trip to visit my mom’s brother and his family.  They lived in Germany, a country in which someone had had the brilliant idea of putting vanilla ice cream through a Spätzle press and topping it with strawberry sauce to create a dish that could almost fool your parents into thinking you were eating a proper meal if only you hadn’t been reliant on them to purchase it for you.


This was significant, because my sister and I were otherwise such picky eaters that my parents were forced to turn to McDonalds, which suddenly becomes an attractive choice when compared to hyperglycemic meltdowns.  Dad noted that at least in Europe they had beer, which was neat.

We also took a train ride to Paris for the weekend, where Nutella crêpes from street vendors supplanted spaghetti eis as the culturosensory delight of choice, and where eating in general was easier because you could always fall back on the ubiquitous baguettes.  So the real tragedy of this part of the trip was that Mom failed to grasp the need to for us to go all the way to the top of the Eiffel Tower, an oversight that I simply could not fathom (especially as Dad got to go).  Confronted with this lapse many years later, Mom said she didn’t realize that, far from being a momentary frivolous impulse, visiting the top of a tower was obviously the most important thing to do in any city.

On our way home, the Frankfurt airport had some intense security because they had recently had a terrorist attack, which was striking to us Americans at the time.  And when we passed through a checkpoint, my six-year-old sister SET OFF THE METAL DETECTOR, causing a squad of SCARY GUARDS speaking brusquely in German to descend upon her and WAND HER, which revealed that…

(Dun dun DUNNNN)

…she had a Wrigley’s gum wrapper in her pocket.

Looking back on this trip makes me realize how much of the overexcitable child’s experience can be conveyed only with italics and caps lock.

Dad took this poster-sized photo and Mom made it the centerpiece of our family photo wall.

Fast forward six years.  During the summer before my senior year, I somehow found myself heading to Japan for a two week homestay with the Michigan-Shiga Student Exchange Program.

A view from Hikone, looking north to Nagahama.  Lake Biwa is to the west.

To be honest, the trip was frequently terrifying.  Highlights included biking to Torahime High School on narrow streets lined with the five-foot deep gutters known to the expat community known as gaijin traps (gaijin is an impolite word for foreigner); discovering that while I can overcome some of my pickiness about food, I seem to be constitutionally incapable of swallowing some nefarious ingredient that’s ubiquitous in Japanese cuisine; and upsetting my host family by accidentally saying “I want to go home” when I was trying to say “I want to return to Japan again.” (帰る has surely foiled many beginning Japanese students.)

While the ease visualizing death by gaijin trap (fueled by imaginational OE) and the discomfort of offended taste buds (more sensory OE) were rough, communication struggles—and failures—were definitely the worst.  With emotional OE, it’s not just embarrassing, it’s excruciating to accidentally say something insulting when you’re going for diplomacy and good will.  Well, kids, this is something that will almost certainly happen to you if you study abroad!  I’d say “don’t sweat it,” and to the extent that this means “don’t beat yourself up over mistakes,” that’s true.  Everyone makes mistakes.  But if “sweating it” means “I’m going to study Japanese harder!” then get out the sweat rags.  頑張っていきます!

This was during my time on JET, because I don’t have pictures on hand of my high school trip.

I figure that sort of thing is what Dabrowski was talking about when he says that inferiority toward oneself—comparing yourself unfavorably to the person you want to believe you are—is an essential Level III dynamism.  As Dabrowski says in Personality Shaping Through Positive Disintegration, people who feel this sense of inferiority can develop “a strong developmental instinct and strong dynamisms, guiding them to an educational ideal” (92).  Though overexcitability is the part of Dabrowski’s theory that gets the most airtime, this points to why dynamisms are what really make the theory work.  Dynamisms may well be propelled by OE; and in turn, they empower a person to overcome the limits that OE might otherwise create.  Given the high risk of inadvertently saying something offensive again, an undynamic emotional overexcitability would likely have prevented me from ever again venturing beyond my homeland’s borders.

But that’s not what happened.  In my junior year of college, I spent three months in Strasbourg, France, and a couple years later, I enrolled at the Japan Center for Michigan Universities (JCMU), the college level program in that same Michigan-Shiga sister state program.  Thanks to being in the right place at the right time, I managed to land a position as a US Pavilion Guide at the 2005 World Expo in Aichi Prefecture.  And after a year or so wandering in the confused haze common to recent multipotentialite grads who wish they could be writers, I went back to for Shiga two years as an Assistant Language Teacher in through the JET Program.

Did you know they still have World’s Fairs?  They call them Expos now.

I could go on and on about every one of these experiences, all of which were intense, occasionally traumatic, and bubbling over with examples of how others’ experiences of the world differ from mine.  It’s worth noting that one does not have to be overexcitable to feel that way about travel.  I suspect that most people (though not all) who travel abroad experience reactions of excitation that are above their own personal averages in intensity, duration, and frequency, much like Roger described in his guest post on another experience that creates artificial high excitability.

Essentially, living abroad messes with the second factor, Dabrowski’s term for external prescriptions like social norms and peer pressures.  Travel reveals just how much power the second factor ordinarily wields in our lives—and it also reveals that you have a choice about following it.  There’s something to be said for doing as the Romans do when you’re in Rome, but the mere act of following the local pattern in place of your default exposes your ability to choose.  So the traveler’s inner world—what Dabrowski called the inner psychic milieu—gets thoroughly shaken up.  And when that happens, s described at

[I]ndividuals who are dominated by socialization tend to react in automatic and stereotypic ways. These reactions typically involve little conscious cognitive processing and many individuals go through life in a largely robotic modality with minimal awareness of their internal mental environment. In contrast to this, once an individual becomes aware of his or her mental life, cognitions, and emotions, the opportunity to build and shape the internal psychic environment presents itself. Extending this, the individual is able to begin to exercise autonomy in how he or she responds to the world and responses come to reflect the developing sense of the individual’s personality ideal.

As you try to live and work in a foreign society, opportunities abound to experience shame, guilt, inferiority toward oneself, astonishment with oneself, and all those other Level III dynamisms that cause your personality to disintegrate.

But once you’ve seen that things can be done differently and still work—perhaps even work better—you gain freedom.  Aware of these alternate paths, your third factor takes over, choosing the one that seems like to point toward your personality ideal.  And while I personally am nowhere near that summit, I do feel like the intensity of my adventures abroad helped me to at least make it up above the cloud line.

Climbing Mt. Fuji with my Expo buddies, August 2005.  We made it to the top to see the sunrise.

You might even say that after the overexcitable eruptions of my earlier adventures compelled me to become self-aware (a Level IV dynamism!), I progressed into the more majestic Mt. Fuji phase of overexcitability.  In this stage, I try really hard to keep my OE under conscious control, directing it toward that ideal self I’m still trying to achieve.

Now, I confess, even at this stage, that the least developmentally helpful of overexcitabilities, sensory OE, hasn’t gone away.  I’m not gonna lie: Japanese food is still not my favorite thing.  I figured out what it is that gets me, at least: bonito flakes.  Too bad that’s in the most standard broth used in Japanese cooking.  But at least I can now suppress that highly embarrassing gag reflex.

No worries, though.  Because Japan sure does have some swanky ice cream.

Me and Myra, my best JET buddy, having parfaits at Karafuneya in Sanjo, Kyoto.

This post is a part of Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop.

Follow the link for others’ takes on this topic.



12 thoughts on “The Coming of Age of an Overexcitable Globetrotter

  1. I don’t need to go abroad. I live in the Calder Valley, Last Outpost of Civilization and Centre of the World. The Calder’s name comes from the Common Brittonic for ‘hard and violent water’ and the Old Norse meaning ‘the river that kills people’. Predictably, on this river that Vikings were scared of, we have a canoe club. #yorkshirepsychology 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, sure, it’s not necessary, but it is one possible path. And if you take it, it leaves a mark.

      Which is not to say that the place you grow up (assuming you live in your childhood hometown or home region at least) doesn’t leave a different sort of mark. One of these days soon I’m going to write a post about Detroit. Which is French for “strait,” along which I once saw Canadians sailing tall ships from the 1800s and shooting cannons. Turns out they were celebrating the War of 1812. On the other side of the river, we’d forgotten about it. (Canoes, though…better to go to Ann Arbor for those.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Talking about tall ships reminds me of going to Portsmouth. They have the HMS Victory in dry dock, next to it the climate-controlled building holding the wreck of the Mary Rose and just down the road, HMS Warrior in the harbour. The Warrior is my favourite, an ironclad with both sails and a steam engine, and the first generation of breach-loading rifled cannons. It is steampunk perfection. Watching the sun set from the stern of the Warrior on a warm summer evening was one of those times all seemed well with the world.

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  2. I loved reading about your travel adventures in Europe and Japan. I think my favorite part though was how you tied ice cream into the beginning and end. I love ice cream, and it is pretty much the only reason I run. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Jen! I didn’t want to ramble on about my adventures too much because I figured that wouldn’t be fun for anyone but me, so I’m really glad you found it worthwhile. AND that you got my ice cream frame. It came up naturally as I was writing, and then I got excited about it and had to find photos. So I’m particularly gratified that anyone noted it. 😀


  3. Just remembered I meant to ask – where does that cobbled path go and what does it say on the column?

    It actually looks just like Shibden Wall near Halifax. The Tour de Yorkshire went up it this year. That’s the kind of cruelty and suffering people watch cycle racing for. 🙂

    That’s actually a weird new example of Yorkshire psychology – since the 2014 Tour de France started here we somehow collectively decided it’s our national sport now. On one hand Yorkshire people will turn out for anything – thousands went to the open day at the sewage works. But this went to another level – see the Holme Moss human anthill. And those pictures don’t even do it justice. Any of them could be widescreen and people would still fill the image. Yorkshire is strange.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, that’s quite an enthusiastic display…! Strange local psychology is a wonderful thing. The place in my life that best fits that description is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I don’t get to go there often, but it was Dad’s favorite place (my grandparents were born and raised there, so they went back there every summer when my dad was little), and…that explains a lot about my dad. 🙂

      As for the picture with the road, that’s the Old Tokaido Road! It used to connect Tokyo with Kyoto back in the Edo period (which is what Tokyo was called at the time, in the period just before the Meiji Restoration). Tokaido means “east sea road,” and here’s what the characters on the marker mean:

      史跡 – shiseki – historic landmark
      箱根 – Hakone (name of the town, a famous resort town near Tokyo)
      旧街道 – kyu-kaido – former main route

      Nowadays the Tokaido Main Line is a train line running from Tokyo to Kyoto, paralleled by the Tokaido Shinkansen, which I have ridden many times.

      Ah, now I miss Japan. Have I mentioned how much I love Japanese trains? And train travel in general? SO much better than both air and car travel!


  4. The fact that that is a main road between cities really rubs in how Japan did not embrace the wheel. 🙂

    I love trains and particularly the idea of sleeper trains. Unfortunately Britain is too small to have any except London-Aberdeen. They’re a more efficient alternative to high speed trains because of ‘perceived travel time’. Four hours on a high speed train feels like a very long time, but you sleep through most of the nine hours on a night train so it almost feels like you took a teleporter.

    That’s a good selling point in an age obsessed with efficiency but people may be resistant to spending several days and nights on a train to cross a continent. One possibility would be your ticket buys you both a berth and training in some skill or subject that can occupy the days. That way people wouldn’t feel like they were wasting time and could be enticed away from planes. This thought actually came to me while considering writing a sci-fi story involving a space-liner company that operated slow but highly efficient space ships.

    Apparently Japan used to have a massive network of night trains but useful sleeper services are being replaced by cruise ships on rails. Efficient train services, including sleepers, are dying in Europe too.

    And on the subject of cable cars, La Paz has the right idea. I can’t believe nobody thought of this before – medium cost, medium capacity, minimal footprint and completely separated from traffic. It’s also a massive source of civic pride, letting people see the city in a way they never could before. I want one in Leeds. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I looked it up and it turns out I remembered it wrong – there are two night trains in Britain. The Caledonian Sleeper includes Aberdeen but consists of two trains that break up (or combine in the opposite direction) to serve Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fort William and Inverness as well. The Night Riviera goes from London to Cornwall. There is also a plan to introduce a service from the Orkney ferry terminals in the extreme north of Scotland to Glasgow and Edinburgh. So it’s slightly better than I thought.

      As well as La Paz’s state of the art cable cars, in Georgia there is the rusted magnificence of Chiatura’s system.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Sleeper trains! I wish I could say I liked them, but the problem is that I don’t sleep on them. I’ve tried twice — one was from Basel, Switzerland to Rome, Italy; I spent my first day in Italy wandering around in a daze and wishing I could take a shower. The second time was from Hyderabad to Eluru, India. In this case, there was no lock on the sleeping cabin, and it’s hard to sleep with your passport case down your shirt.

      And I like long train trips while awake because I like zoning out while staring out the window! On the other hand, I’d love to sign up for a class while on a cross-country train.


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