Exploring a different culture is easier – and more urgent – than you might think.
America is a nation of pioneers. We have adventurous spirits, and we’re willing to think outside of the box. But today, there are many who don’t even realize they are in a box. Luckily, there’s an easy solution to that problem: travel.
Travel helps you learn how to see your own bubble. It’s akin to why you learn a foreign language. Sure, you might use that language someday. An alternate grammar and vocabulary helps you learn the structure of English more deeply. With that comparison, you can see your own language clearly.
You don’t need a grand European tour. In fact, you could jet from capital to capital and still order the same drink from Starbucks in each city. Neither distance nor expense guarantees an eye-opening experience.
Forget Europe. You can go 10 miles from your own home and spend time with people in another neighborhood. Have an office job? Leave the climate-controlled, comfortable places where you spend most of your life and get out in nature for a while. Seeing a different place will help you to understand where you’re from.
Here’s the recipe for a $20 foreign excursion: Take out a map of your house and draw a 20-mile radius around it. Where in that circle have you never been? Maybe you thought that neighborhood was too rough. Or too expensive. Or maybe you just didn’t think there was anything interesting there.
Get in the car and drive there. Stop in a few stores. Buy a cup of coffee or a sandwich at a restaurant counter and chat with your server for awhile. Notice what’s around you. Do the grocery stores sell different food? Are the movie theaters showing the same movies? You might be surprised.
Traveling to visit our near neighbors isn’t just an exercise in personal growth. It’s also part of good citizenship. Visiting a new neighborhood gives one a fuller picture of what the lives of Americans are like. And we need a greater shared understanding of what it means to be American.
A recent Pew survey showed that Americans feel distant from communities that aren’t like their own. About two thirds of both rural and urban Americans both believed that those outside their communities didn’t understand the problems they faced. Even more troubling, 63% of urban residents and 56% of rural residents believed those who lived in other communities had a negative view of them.
For a few gallons of gas and the cost of a cup of coffee, you can experience a different world. It’s not far away from your real life, but it is outside of your bubble.