Learning about culture is an integral part to travelling. It’s not just about stunning scenery, adventurous experiences, or relaxation. Learning about culture is enriching for the mind and soul. It can enhance the whole experience and offer a totally new way of thinking.
What is culture?
“the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.”
“the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.”
By definition, culture is the set of shared ideas, rules, rituals and common characteristics that a group of people share, often by geographical region or sometimes through religion and belief systems. It can be represented through various mediums, from art and architecture, through to politics and language, through to food and leisure time, all way to how we treat the dead. Culture is an ever present yet constantly evolving phenomenon.
Why does it interests me?
In my twenties I trained as an Anthropologist at UCL. I was fascinated by cultures and societies from all over the world. Initially I had questions I needed answers for – What made us human? What do we share across all cultures? What makes us difference from one another?
As I went through my studies I found more questions cropping up. It seemed that the more I learned the more there was to find out. But what I definitely discovered is that there is a skill to learning about other cultures. You know, it can be hard to understand and accept difference, particularly when they are at odds with your own sensibilities.
And so, culture continues to fascinate me.
Why is it important to learn about other cultures?
Tolerance, acceptance, growth, progress and evolution – these are only achievable when we learn about other cultures.
Too often I see conflict, misunderstanding, frustration, and upset caused by lack of or mis-understanding of cultural differences. When one starts to learn about other cultures one begins to find means to compromise, understand, seek solutions and work towards peaceful encounters.
Moreover, when we learn about other cultures we learn about ourselves. There’s something about shining a spotlight on others that actually magnifies those aspects of our own culture that we take for granted.
By looking at others we are looking at ourselves.
It can be an incredibly revealing process when we start to see the good, bad and ugly of our culture. It’s utterly fascinating; by learning about others we learn about ourselves.
What happens when it goes wrong?
Of course, learning about another culture is not always a walk in the park. It can be hard work, especially when there are language barriers in the way.
Before you reach understanding there can be all manner of obstacles in the way.
Cultural exchange can go very wrong when we make assumptions based on our own way of doing things. Most of us take for granted that what we consider ‘normal’ or the ‘correct’ way of doing things, or even what is morally right. Those assumptions can cause conflict and misunderstanding which can stand in the way of learning about a new culture.
The best cultural exchanges take place when we learn to hold back from acting on our assumptions and instead listen, watch and learn.
What are your thoughts on learning about other cultures when travelling?