Tales of a globe trotter

Chico State and Butte College professor Tom Grothe gives a lesson on wandering the world

Tom Grothe in Leshan, China, in front of the world’s largest Buddha statue.

Tom Grothe in Leshan, China, in front of the world’s largest Buddha statue.

Courtesy Of Tom Grothe

Tom Grothe will never forget the day he met his wife because the date is stamped in his passport.

He met Kerstin, a traveling German, on a boat ride from Thailand to Malaysia during the middle of a five-month backpacking trip throughout southeast Asia. The journey transformed his outlook on the world.

Since the trip, Grothe has successfully made travel his life, and he shares his experiences in far-off places and cultural insights with his students at both Chico State University and Butte College as a professor of intercultural communications.

Having written the curriculum for Butte College, Grothe is proud to say there are three sections of intercultural communications at the Oroville campus this fall. At Chico State, students will have to crash his course because it’s already filled.

Many students who have taken Grothe’s popular class are so inspired by his stories that they have followed in his footsteps. One of them, Julie Fish, traveled throughout Asia and is now enjoying France, said Grothe, who corresponds through e-mail with several of his traveling students. Another, Paul Johnson, writes regularly about his adventures in Australia, New Zealand and Thailand.

In the 22 years since he first traveled outside of the United States, the 41-year-old Grothe has been to 38 countries from Europe to South America and Asia. And over those years, he has learned to appreciate rural and mountainous regions more than commercial centers, which have become “so globalized.”

“One example is Suzhou, China, which is supposed to be the Venice of China, with canals and gardens,” he said. “Now there are more KFCs than gardens.”

In the classroom, Grothe teaches students the importance of immersing themselves in authentic cultures by practicing “cultural exploration instead of cultural exploitation.” To do so, he has a few tips:

• Ride local buses: Public transportation abroad is nearly always better than anywhere in the United States.

• Stay cheap: There’s no reason to seek out a Hyatt Hotel when you can spend a fraction of the price to stay at a local joint.

Grothe and two monks pose near the foot of the Potala Palace in Tibet—the former home of the Dalai Lama.

Courtesy Of Tom Grothe

• Get a guide book: This will help you find cheap lodging. Grothe uses Lonely Planet.

• Try new foods: But use your own judgment. Grothe passed up on goat testicles in China and pig’s blood in India.

For all you soccer stars out there, the sport truly is the world’s game, said Grothe, who, during a recent interview, sported a Brasil shirt and a pair of classic Adidas Sambas. So, look for parks and try to join a pick-up match.

The best travel is the kind that allows people to enjoy all the world has to offer and increases their “global competence,” he said. And in exploring cultures, travelers come away with more memories to share than those who traveled 12,000 miles to hit up a bar.

Grothe has plenty of travel tales, and some of them are pretty wild.

He remembers that when riding down the mountains in Tibet, the best seat on the bus was on the roof. He had the best view of the region, but could also see down the cliff to a bus graveyard—the resting place of vehicles that did not survive the narrow Himalayan trails.

In Panama, he remembers climbing Volcán Barú, where, at the summit, he could see both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Since he was there during the rainy season, he had to be dropped off just after midnight in order to reach the summit right at sunrise.

Grothe and his wife, Kerstin, take a break on their journey to Mt. Everest Base Camp.

Courtesy Of Tom Grothe

The Panamanian who dropped him off assured him if he stuck to the trail, he would not need to worry about panthers. He was right, but unfortunately by the time Grothe reached the summit, it was pouring rain. Still, it was the experience that mattered, not the view.

With a life full of amazing experiences, Grothe now has a new challenge in his life—an infant daughter named Ella. In the past, Grothe and his wife, who works for the Butte County Office of Education, have enjoyed summers off by traveling. Being parents won’t stop the tradition. Though they don’t have a date set, the couple plans to take Ella on a trip to Germany, so Kerstin’s family can meet her.

“We’ll have to make the trip before she turns 2,” Grothe said, peering into Ella’s eyes as he rocked her back and forth. “That way her ticket will be free.”

Grothe at home in Chico.

Courtesy Of Tom Grothe