I have recently been reflecting on how interacting with and living in a different culture has deeply affected me. And I am convinced that everyone should experience this! God made this whole cool world with beautiful people and places and we have the privilege of exploring it! So whether you decide to move to a completely different hemisphere like me or just go on a two week trip, these are a few reasons to get you out the door and onto the plane.
Get a better perspective on life back at home
I have something to break to you: you are not the center of the world. I know, I know. You are going to be like “April duh I know that.” And yes we all know it, but how many of us actually live like it is true? Traveling and living alongside lives that are different from yours, changes your perspective and ultimately the way you live in such a cool way. It changes the way (or what) you eat, the way you think about work, the way you worship, the way you listen, even the way you vote.
I have to give a disclaimer: I hate politics. And I always have because by nature I am a peace maker and politics has always felt divisive in my experience. And, for those reasons, I had a super hard time with this last election. Without getting into anything specific (again, I hate politics), I remember thinking how stuck I felt. None of the candidates were a particularly good choice in my mind and there was so much arguing and hate. I did not even want to vote! I seriously considered not casting a ballot for a while. But then I thought of my friends in Zambia and South Africa. My not voting would be like spitting in their faces. Whether I like it or not, what happens in America effects the rest of the world. My vote is not just my own. So I did go vote… with my friends around the world in mind.
The more exposure you have to other people and places, the more your opinions and lifestyle will change back home.
Experience new traditions and holidays
It is human to celebrate. And one of the coolest things about experiencing another culture is being able to celebrate alongside local people.
Travel hack: if at all possible, go to a wedding when you are abroad. It is the fastest sure fire way of finding out how each culture celebrates. And let me tell you Zambian weddings are a hoot! Dancing and yelling and eating…and more dancing.
Experiencing these different celebrations can at first be disorienting because we don’t know what is going on. But stick it out and I promise you that you will find something to love about it. In fact, you might just find me dancing down the aisle at my wedding.
The people (not the photos)
I know you have done it. We all have. Scrolled through Instagram liking all those pristine pictures of adventure babes with big boobs and small waists perched atop a mountain overlooking a gorgeous valley in a nondescript but beautiful part of the world. And you think “I want to do that too.” Granted, pretty pictures are great. Looking hot in them can be even better. But the best thing cannot be captured: relationships and people.
Okay okay. Don’t throw tomatoes at me for being cheesy just yet! Just think about it. What was your favorite part about your last trip? I’m gonna bet it wasn’t the photos.
Take, for example, my recent trip to Denmark. One of my favorite parts was meeting a kind (then) stranger who offered to take us on a bike ride around the city. Sure I have a few blurry iphone pics, but the real experience is all mine to savor. And I got a friend out of it too!
People are the things that enrich travel, not photos. And getting to interact with people all over the world is one of the biggest perks of traveling!
Learn to relate to people that are different from you.
We conceptually know that there are people out there that live and think differently from us, but our sense of “normal” is based on what we are used to right? Anything else is “weird” or (worse) wrong. I don’t have to tell you that Americans are infamous for this kind of attitude. But here is the key to this sickness: knowing…really knowing…people that are different from you!
I have some really awesome friends here in Zambia, but it has come with work.
For example, Zambians are very conflict avoidant whereas Americans like to hit things straight on. When I have had conflict in the past, I tried talking about it and it usually is very uncomfortable for my Zambian friends. So I have had to adjust my tactics to more relational and round-about ways. But because we have been through those patches, I understand my Zambian friends better and vice versa.
Become more flexible
I know what you are thinking “Uh oh. That doesn’t sound good.” And you would be correct. This one usually happens when things go wrong. And things go wrong a lot when you are in a different country. It goes to reason that when you are not familiar with a place, you don’t know how everything works so things are just bound to not go according to plan. You will miss the train. You will get lost. You will say the wrong thing. But, hun, it is alright and life goes on. All of my fellow expats will agree with me when I say, flexibility is the only attitude you can hold if you are going to survive! And—bonus– it will make you a happier, less anxious person too.
To learn to appreciate beauty in a different way
Babes, this world is so beautiful! And there are so many people and places and landscapes and events that we could have never imagined back home that just radiate that beauty. Living abroad has opened my mind to so many different, beautiful things!
I never used to listen to Afro hiphop music before I moved to Zambia. In fact, if I did I don’t think I would have enjoyed it. But just like fine wine takes time to appreciate, the beauty of music and fashion and architecture take getting used to as well.
I remember when I took this photo thinking “wow. That woman is gorgeous.” Even though it is very different from what I grew up with in suburban America.
Sometimes we just gotta get out. And I get that. Sometimes experiencing a place and people different from ourselves gives us the distance from home that we need to be able to see the forest through the trees of our every day life. I have been there.
Anthropologists call it “liminal space.” In fact I wrote a whole blog post about it.
When my mom passed away, I felt completely lost. One of the things that got me through my grief was traveling to Europe and walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. My life on the pilgrimage was simple: just get up and walk every day, passing through Spanish countryside and staying in local guesthouses. I came back a changed woman. Giving space to experience life in a different way let me process my life back home.
Bust down your own mental barriers
Traveling will show you that you are actually a lot stronger than you thought you were.
Because of the differences and unknowns, traveling can be pretty daunting and scary. But when you successfully navigate that huge airport, get to your destination, get out and see people and things, and come back home safe n sound, you have all the reason to do a little happy dance. Even though I fly a lot, every time I walk into an airport I get a rush of adrenaline down my spine. There are so many logistical hurdles in between here and there. So many people I don’t even know yet that will help me, hinder me, ignore me, and connect with me. The challenge is exhilarating. Which makes the coming home that much better. When I get back home I am like heck yes I just traveled halfway across the world by myself and not only did I not die, but I actually had fun.
Cuz why not?
The last reason to experience another culture is just “come on dude. Just do it.”
The real question to ask is not “why should I travel” but “why not”? Why not learn from others? Why not experience something new? Why not give yourself a challenge? Why not humble yourself to grow? Why not bask in the beauty? Why not take hot pics on top of a mountain? (oh wait. Scratch that last one)