Every year, thousands of students descend upon foreign universities with one goal in mind: to experience a different culture firsthand.
Every year, thousands of students end up talking only to other students of their same (or similar) nationality and lost sight of what brought them to that country in the first place. The world is an enormous place filled with different cultures that can stretch us until we grow.
However, more often than not we ignore that and search out the familiar.
Oh, so you speak ____?
One of the supposed main benefits of leaving one’s country for another is to better learn a language. Once, there, we enroll in language courses or courses in that language. Then, we let those courses be our only contact with that language, letting other opportunities go by the wayside or forcing locals to speak our language rather than the other way around (here’s looking at you, anglophones).
As representatives of our respective cultures, we need to be better than this. One of the most impactful things anyone can do is to know just a little bit about another country.
Students studying abroad in France, for example, often decry how hard it is to make French friends but don’t put forth any efforts themselves to get to know French people. This isn’t meant to say that living days on end in a language that isn’t your own isn’t tiring–it is–but if we truly want to grow we need to be willing to step beyond our “normal” way more than we do.
Under those sweet golden arches
Sadder still are tourists who refuse to try to seek out food that’s representative of the area and go straight for the McDonald’s.
A Big Mac is a Big Mac all around the world. But the risk posed by local food is less than that which a Big Mac already is. Once again, all of this comes down to not wanting to expand one’s comfort zone.
The end result is a boring, safe, edited version of what already exists. It’s about time we break free of that.
It’s time to stop treating the world like our playground and more like our home. The golden age of exploration isn’t over yet.
Feature photo by author. TGV at Gare Lille Flandres