It's important to understand your own culture before learning about other cultures. CHRISTINE UND HAGEN GRAF/CC FLICKR

With summer holidays well underway, travel plans remain a popular topic of conversation. Travel is widely perceived as being an avenue toward personal development; it opens us up to various new experiences, people, cultures, customs, and traditions. Apart from being the fountainhead to broadening our perspectives of the world, travel also enables us to escape from the quotidian humdrum of life as we immerse ourselves in foreign situations on foreign soils. Whether it is to a busy city, or a more secluded destination, travelling can stimulate or relax the mind, allowing it to thrum with more ideas or to achieve a state of clarity.

In the excitement that resides within the cliché of “to travel is to live,” one must, however, not forget that there is more to travelling than the rosy picture often painted by society. From the barriers to travelling, which include its cost, to the opportunity cost of exploring certain cultures and places instead of others, travelling often comes at a price.

The monetary cost of travel often presents a major barrier to students. Not everyone has enough money to support themselves while travelling, or has the choice to allocate funds to travelling expenses. For most, travel is a luxury and therefore is prioritized well behind necessities like food, housing, education, and healthcare, as well as accumulating savings. This barrier may especially apply to students and young adults fresh to the job market, who are looking to create savings and therefore might not have the means to spending money.

For individuals who are unwilling or unable to invest, a lack of travel should not be seen as limiting one’s personal development. There are various alternative learning experiences that can mould individuals, including internships and volunteer work in one’s own community. Not only can such prospects save on travelling expenses, but they may also offer an opportunity to earn money — all while exploring the depths of one’s own community.

For individuals who are unwilling or unable to invest, a lack of travel should not be seen as limiting one’s personal development.

Literature, travel books, magazines, and travel programs on T.V. or online can also be substitutes to travel, by giving a glimpse into things that are outside of your known world. Not only are these alternatives cheaper, but their consumption can also turn into a daily educational and recreational habit that is less time-consuming and non-committal.

Contrary to popular belief, books can sometimes provide more in-depth exposure into cultures than travelling might. Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School and the author of numerous studies that focus on the connection between creativity and international travel, finds that neural pathways are influenced by environment and habit, and are therefore sensitive to change. Foreign experiences – which include exposure to new sounds, smells, languages, tastes, sensations, and sights – can spark different synapses in the brain and may have the potential to revitalize the mind.

Merely travelling abroad, however, does not always produce these effects. Instead, according to Galinksy, what travelling accomplishes is “multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation.” This is akin to the famous observation penned by Marcel Proust, the French novelist: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new lands but in seeing with new eyes.”

This is important to consider, given that, more often than not, travelling itself does not necessarily involve extensive multicultural engagements, nor does it offer deep immersion into a foreign community at short intervals. Therefore, when not done right, the experience can become more costly than culturally enriching.

Akin to the infamous observation penned by Marcel Proust, the French novelist, “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new lands but in seeing with new eyes.”

Apart from falling short of educating us about a culture foreign to us, travelling can also take its toll on how we interact with the cultures that surround us daily. Often, amidst the avidity to explore other countries, cultures, and ways of life, many individuals tend to overlook their own communities as places worthy of discovery and exploration. They may perceive more distant countries as being more exotic compared to their own seemingly familiar surroundings, which are consequently taken for granted.

It is crucial, however, for one to explore and understand their immediate community before attempting to venture further, as ignorance towards one’s own community could lead to the loss of cultural identity among present as well as future generations.

This is especially important to consider in a world where geographical separation is becoming less consequential. With increased migration, international trade, the Internet, and various social media and networking platforms, interactions between people from diverse social and cultural backgrounds are taking place — constantly exposing individuals to new cultures. But this also makes it easier for individuals to forget to explore the cultural landscape of their local surroundings.

Undoubtedly, from a different perspective, travel can meet the increasing need for cultural awareness and sensitivity, especially in urban centres. None of this is to say that travelling cannot be in and of itself an educational and fulfilling endeavour. To get the most out of an experience abroad, however, it is crucial for people to fully immerse themselves in foreign cultures. This includes learning the local language, interacting with locals, eating local foods, commuting using local transportation systems, and sundry other things that involve stepping out of one’s comfort zone and living like the locals do. By doing this, we not only discover other cultures, but also have something to compare our own cultures and experiences to. Travelling should not simply mean ‘to go abroad’; rather, it should be about following the world’s map in a conscious and educated way – to help create the map to oneself.

When it is not possible to physically transport yourself to a new place, know that there are alternatives to travel that can be equally fulfilling. The importance of such experiences cannot be understated, whether or not they require you to pack your bags.

Perlyn Cooper is a second-year student at Victoria College studying English and philosophy. 

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