Immerse yourself in culture

Understanding our world starts with experiences outside our borders.

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Participating in new customs makes you cultured. Many times, those foreign experiences are just right down the street. | Aaron Fooks/THE CHIMES [file photo]

Catherine Streng, Writer

I feel saddened when people tell me they have no interest in traveling abroad. I am disappointed when people show no interest in learning about my culture or others outside of the United States. Visiting a new country should be on everyone’s bucket list, — and the sooner the better, since experiencing a foreign culture can enrich those who experience it.

Traveling abroad opens people’s eyes. Those who travel realize their culture does not exist in isolation, but serves as only one expression of God’s creativity, making them a more humble human being. Because of this, experiencing — and sometimes participating — in new traditions creates mutual respect with people from different cultures. When I visited Morocco, I refused to eat in public during Ramadan. I had never done that before, but I respected their religious observances out of a desire to honor their culture, which created a strong bond between myself and the natives. Those families were more than happy to teach me about their lives and to learn about mine. I even brought home some traditions, making me a more well-rounded individual, and perhaps even left some of mine with them, like a seed of my Christian faith.

Visiting another country also creates personal relationships. People you meet at restaurants or on the street can become close acquaintances. While in Japan, I stayed with a home-stay family for only three days and two nights, but they still remain in my hearts and prayers. They did not speak English, so I learned some Japanese to update them on my life in letters after I returned home. We still exchange gifts and I recently learned they had another child. I can barely communicate with them but they have enriched my life, and given me a special love for miso soup.

Traveling can also bring happiness to the people you visit. Julie Brown, a junior Biology major, lived in Taiwan her whole life before moving to California for school.

“[When someone is interested in my culture], it makes me feel like they actually care about me as a person because they want to know about my country and where I’m from. So it makes me really happy,” she explained.

I agree. When people ask me questions about Costa Rica, I feel more loved and more important as a person because it makes me realize my experiences and my culture, all that makes me who I am, matter to others who do not share them with me. When others ignore or remain disinterested in those aspects of me, I feel insignificant.

Understandably, not everyone has the ability to travel abroad. Luckily, we live in Los Angeles County, where we can easily experience other cultures simply by visiting certain towns or even just talking to people.

“You’ll learn the most from people and their experiences living [in their native country]…If you know someone who is from that country, go and talk to them about [their country]” Brown said.

Biola has a large number of global students. You may not realize it, but the person sitting next to you in class could have grown up in Asia, Africa or South America. Even if you cannot study abroad or travel, relish the small opportunities you get when interacting with different cultures. But if you can make a trip to another country — do not hesitate.

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