The case for international experiences
Because of my various study abroad experiences, I’ve come to be a firm believer and proponent for intercultural exchange and cross-cultural immersion. My time abroad significantly impacted my life in so many incredible ways and truly helped me gain a more globalized and empathic perspective of this vast and multi-cultural world we live in. However, when I returned home from my semester abroad in Madrid, I noticed that not everyone around me felt as strongly about the necessity for intercultural experiences and immersion into other cultures and ways of life outside of their own. I was taken aback, frustrated, and confused… how could anyone not want to broaden their views and see the world more globally to experience other cultures and views? I had friends who said that they had never and will never travel outside of the United States. Attribute it to fear that derives from international travel, fear of flying or what have you… deep down I felt these people were complacent and somewhat ignorant to not want to appreciate and experience a different country’s culture. From someone who just returned from such a transformative experience and felt the intangible euphoria from studying and living abroad, I was shocked, disappointed, and perplexed. What were they not understanding? What was I not understanding?
I tried to probe those friends and pick their brain a bit as to why they felt that way and why they were so adamant about not wanting to travel and experience other parts of the world that were beyond the comfort of the culture they had been raised in. Most of them answered, “I don’t feel the need to travel” or “America has everything I want”, or “I love living here, why do I need to go visit somewhere else?”. It was incredibly interesting, yet disheartening to realize that close people in my life didn’t feel the same way that I did. They hadn’t yet been impacted by the world in the same way that I had. They still saw their world through a fraction of its potential scope. I discerned in those moments that no matter how much I tried to persuade or encourage them to travel and experience other cultures, they were stuck in their ways and had to personally undergo a life-changing cross-cultural experience for themselves. It was up to them to learn and expand their global horizons and think about the world differently.
The world is as big or as small as you make it to be
During my time in Spain, I was fortunate enough to live in a Colegio Mayor, a traditional Spanish dormitory, where I was exposed to a plethora of new dialects of languages, cultures, ways of life, and incredible people. This colegio served as a multicultural hub of sorts, in which everyday, I’d have a meal with a friend from a different country-whether that be a student from Spain, Panama, Dominican Republic, or Brazil; I seized the opportunity to learn more about other fascinating cultures and customs outside of my own. The people I met inside of the colegio were the kindest and most humble individuals I had ever met, so willing to help me improve my Spanish speaking skills and share about their personal experiences and values from their own culture with me. I was further able to expand my perspective and began to see the world through their cultural lens; I was like a sponge, trying to absorb and understand all that they were imparting and sharing with me about their home country and culture. That was one of the first moments of my life that I felt so culturally connected and out of my comfort zone- in the best way. I pushed myself to see the world through a different cultural perspective in order to gain understanding and empathy towards other people’s values and ways of life. Throughout my time in Madrid, I was devoted to experiencing a full cross-cultural immersion into Spanish culture and life; I didn’t just want to adapt to a new way of life, I wanted to learn and understand the significance of all of the cultural components I was implementing and interacting with during my time abroad. I challenged myself to embrace the notion of inter-cultural exchange to its fullest degree and broadened my cultural horizons.
After I returned home from my semester in Madrid, I enrolled in a re-entry course that helped me better adapt and acclimate to my life back at home and on campus. In one video that my professor shared with us, I distinctly remember a young boy stating, “the world is as big or as small as you make it to be”; a quote that I’ve been deeply impacted by until this day and take to heart. I interpret this statement to mean: it’s up to you as the individual, as it’s your choice to see the world through whichever lens you choose to view it through. Perhaps the parameters of your world are only defined by the small town that you live in or the country that you were born in and grew up. I’ve come to find that seeking out global experiences has helped me expand my world, so that I don’t give into the comfort of my own views, customs, beliefs, or ways of life; I choose to expand the dimensions of my world so that it includes cultures and countries, beliefs and traditions that are beyond my reach. I choose to define the scope of my lens of the world as abundant and wide-reaching. I choose to view the world for all that it may impact and educate me.
Brie at the Colegio Mayor with some of her new friends
Being a globally minded advocate
Even with the ongoing pandemic ensuing, we can still actively choose to become more globally focused, empathic, and integrated with other cultures and viewpoints that are different than our own. Although we may not be able to actually hop on a plane to Europe or Asia and experience those cultures right now, we can still embrace this time at home to immerse ourselves and broaden our international perspectives by virtually experiencing new countries. Researching other countries’ cultures and customs is very accessible and easy to do, and is a great alternative when we can’t physically immerse ourselves into the country. It can be as simple as watching a foreign movie or TV show, listening to music in a different language, doing virtual tours of museums, monuments, or attractions, or taking language lessons. Now more than ever before, it’s imperative to look beyond ourselves, our beliefs, and ways of life and extend our empathy and willingness to understand and encounter other cultures that are different than our own. I’ve never met a person who has ever regretted their travel or cross-cultural experience; how I see it, they can only enhance and and transform your life in positive and meaningful ways.