New City, New People: A Humanist’s Travels on New Years Eve

Thomas Dixon’s goal is to visit a new city every year on New Year’s Eve, to open himself to new cultures, experiences, and people. He encourages other humanists to do the same.

The first time I left the country, from my native state of Pennsylvania, was not for a more common type of trip on which a typical college student may go abroad. My first time outside the U.S. was to visit Taiwan. A girlfriend in college was from that country, and we had dated for long enough that it felt appropriate for me to meet her family. Winter break presented the perfect opportunity, as there are typically no internships then, and with all the holidays it was perfectly reasonable that academic work may not be a focus of attention.

While there, with New Year’s Eve approaching, I had assumed that we would decide where that “special evening” would be spent. When I brought this thought up, I was met with blank stares. I was told, essentially, that NYE was not celebrated there. I proceeded to develop some rather severe “culture shock” and walked through the neighborhoods of Hsinchu City on NYE night, hearing no celebrations and finding streets as empty as the expressions I was met with earlier, when I learned that I could be so wrong about what’s “expected” or “normal.”

Ever since that trip, I have decided that I should experience NYE in a new country every year. I had felt deeply uneasy and wondered, “What else am I taking for granted?” Given that my major was psychology, and also that I attempt to deeply identify with other people as a secular humanist, I felt that I was “failing” at my goal of learning about others. A future psychologist is expected to have a better understanding of “people” than others in many fields are expected to. How can I connect earnestly with others if there is so much I am assuming to be true that simply is not? These trips have given me the chance to explore both other parts of the world and people overall.

With these thoughts in mind, I have begun to explore just what is happening on December 31st and January 1st in different parts of the world. Thus far, I have been to Taiwan, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and England, with Taiwan being the only country I had not intended to travel to for this reason.

I have specific rules which I stick to pretty rigidly, by and large, both for the purposes of safety and to stay within my goals for these trips:

  1. I am trying to challenge my notions, my preconceptions. I may welcome into my life what was not there before. I am growing both personally and interpersonally as a result. I will act in this manner.
  2. The trips should be for a new country, a place where I have never been before at all. I have otherwise been to Spain, Belize, and South Korea, so those countries are now ineligible. Also, I had “cheated” once by going to New York for NYE one year, but I had felt it was too odd if I had not had the “stereotypical USA” experience for NYE, especially since so many people asked me about it.
  3. It does not matter if the people in the country tend to celebrate NYE or not. It does not matter if that time of year is a “good time to visit,” given weather concerns. I am looking for all experiences, not solely for different celebrations.
  4. Pragmatically, it must be a spot which is considered “safe enough” for me to visit.
  5. I try to bounce between parts of the world, year-by-year, so I’m not on the same continent for two sequential years. There is so much of the world to see, and I may learn more by embracing diversity which the larger distances between countries I visit may bring.

I did miss two trips in 2011 and 2012, as I was hit by a car in November 2010 and nearly died at the all-too-early age of twenty-six. I have been speaking publicly about and writing articles regarding the episodic memory deficits I have since experienced, and how I have been able to largely overcome them through extensive use of technologies and strategies.

While being cleared to once again travel alone internationally and resuming coursework by entering into my graduate studies in educational psychology at Temple University, which were major milestones in my recovery, I believe that it was only when I was walking through the streets of Amsterdam this past NYE, entirely by myself for days at a time, that I felt my recovery was complete. I felt then that all of the therapists, friends, family, and others—all of the people who had expressed concern for me and shown care towards me—believed that I could be me, the me I had wanted to be.

What is on my plate for NYE 2014? I will soon be in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. I deeply look forward to connecting with people I meet there and seeing what I have yet to see. I hope that your New Year’s Eve may see you welcoming new experiences into your life.

Happy New Year 2014!