Sustainability in the 6ix

Eco-friendly lifestyles can cut costs that we didn’t know could be cut

Sustainability in the 6ix

The recent influx of attention toward sustainability and environmental awareness has taken social media by storm. Whether it’s Starbucks banning straws — but still wrapping every product in plastic — or Zara deciding to use recycled packaging, everyone seems to be making an effort toward a greener future.

But are they really?

Since the United States pulled out of the Paris Agreement, despite wildfires sweeping the nation and temperatures worldwide standing at a staggering high, the public’s awareness has turned toward climate change.

Those who have been fighting for change for decades finally feel that the urgency of environmental protection is being understood. Yet, regardless of plastic bag bans and boxed water, we have a long way to go before the damage can be stopped and reverted. There are organizations such as Greenpeace Canada, which have been fighting the good fight for years. Their efforts are inarguably genuine, but whether or not all of the corporations that have recently jumped on the green boat have done so selflessly is debatable.

There are a number of companies that have vowed to “go green” and promote eco-friendly practices in a fast-paced capitalist market. For instance, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Tesla are creating conscientious change with energy efficient appliances, reduced carbon emissions, or community recycling.

Often these efforts are still, as other aspects of the companies’ production and distribution are, harmful to the environment. Yet the fact that the urgency of the matter has been instilled in people’s minds, and that people are calling on industries to reduce their carbon footprint and scrutinize their practices, means that the harrowing realization of what we have done is looming.

As bleak as that may sound, it is immensely important for people to, at both a macro and micro level, evaluate their actions. Currently, this wave of environmental awareness has encouraged millennials to make it a point to reduce waste in their homes, buy from sustainable fashion brands, and go vegan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is possibly the most promising development for our futures. They have become, as one might call it, ‘woke.’

While it can be argued that survival instinct is at the stem of these actions, human beings still are not fully aware of the gravity of climate change. Regardless of the countless media campaigns, articles, and research, we find comfort in our minute attempts at sustainability and conservation. Claiming that our survival instincts have finally kicked in is giving humanity too much credit. We need to do more. Even living in a location with a high cost of living, such as Toronto, where the rent prices alone are drowning students, there are affordable ways to live an eco-friendly lifestyle.

As students on a budget, being sustainable can be reasonable, but it is not particularly convenient. We would have to go out of our way to reduce our carbon footprint, although these steps are worth the trouble. Recycling is one the easiest ways to do your part. U of T’s campuses, as well as most apartment complexes, have recycling bins. Instead of being negligent with your waste, make it a point to recycle when possible. Reduce your plastic usage by purchasing cloth bags for groceries and keep a reusable water bottle handy. Another convenient modification students can make to their lifestyles is to buy local. Whether it be perishables or furniture, we don’t often realize the environmental impact of shipping.

What individuals don’t often recognize is that eco-friendly lifestyles often cut extraneous costs. We no longer need to stop and buy bottled water, thrift shopping is much cheaper than purchasing brand new products, and opting for used textbooks or library copies can save hundreds of dollars.

These modifications can be made to your lifestyles and homes, such as using biodegradable plates instead of plastic ones and by using energy efficient power bars. Creating green living spaces is easier than most students presume.

While the vegan trend is still met with reluctance, there are ethical, environmental, and physical benefits to the diet itself. Most of us may not be ready to cut out meat altogether, but understanding where the ingredients are sourced from and choosing to dine at restaurants that utilize free-range local products will not only ease your conscience, but can also push other establishments to do the same.

As a student, living in the 6ix can be daunting and expensive, but sustainability is indeed achievable. It all depends on the effort we are willing to exert.

Our minute actions in which we find solace might also be our saving grace. If everyone were to implement these changes in their daily lives, we could make an impact. It solely depends on if we can grasp how important our actions are within the current climate.

‘Fuck,’ ‘shit,’ ‘damn’

Exploring the history behind the English language’s most commonly used swear words

‘Fuck,’ ‘shit,’ ‘damn’

Language is unquestionably one of the most beautiful gifts known to humanity.

Over time, there have been significant developments in the English language, including the evolution from Old English, to Shakespearean English, to what is now modern English.

‘Fuck,’ ‘shit,’ and ‘damn’ — sound familiar? In society today, there are certain words that are automatically deemed as inappropriate and rude to say — we call them swear words or profanity.

These are three of the most heard profanities in the English language, and when we hear them, we are quickly caught up in the intonation, implication, and context of the words.

At their core, these funny sounding words are simply letters jumbled together that are laden with baggage and history. Popular culture has even merged ‘fuck shit damn’ together, with Urban Dictionary defining the expression as, “Expressive phrase used when one four-letter swear word just isn’t enough.”

However, what do we know about the actual origins and history of these bad words? And the real question is: how did they come to be in the first place?


Out of all the English words that begin with the letter F, this is the only word that is commonly referred to as the F-word. It is a versatile word that can describe almost every emotion — pain, happiness, love, hate, and many more.

It can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb. A common myth about ‘fuck’ is that, it is an acronym for “Fornication Under Command of the King”: the population was so sparse that the king would order everyone to start having sex.

Supposedly, couples in the act would hang up a sign that said ‘F.U.C.K.’ Clearly, this story is false and has nothing to do with the actual origin. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘fuck’ did not come into existence until the fifteenth century.

‘Fuck,’ possibly derived from the German word ‘ficken,’ meant “to strike” in early contexts, and it frequently appeared as part of surnames with the literal meaning of hitting, rather than having any sexual connotations to it.

As time went on, ‘fuck’ took on a very different meaning. William Dunbar, a Scottish poet, wrote about a man sexually lusting for woman. Dunbar wrote: “By his feirris he would have fukkit,” suggesting the man’s desire to have sex with the woman.

Since then, ‘fuck’ has been gradually associated with sex, and over time, mass media has outright deemed this word to be inappropriate, rude, and offensive.


Similar to ‘fuck,’ ‘shit’ can also be traced back in history.

Originally, it had a technical purpose, referring specifically to diarrhea in cattle. Essentially, ‘shit’ would be used in many words that had connections to cattle.

However, as time went on, it started to have more meanings than simply diarrhea in cattle; it is now associated with all kinds of feces and often used by people to replace ‘things’ or ‘stuff.’

‘Shit’ has developed from being a technical term to socially unacceptable vocabulary. The same poet who first committed to ‘fuck,’ Dunbar also wrote “schit but wit” in order to refer to an annoying person.

Ultimately, ‘shit’ would be used to describe trash or worthless things. Nowadays, not only can ‘shit’ be used to degrade others, but it can also ironically be used to mean the best if accompanied by ‘the.’ For example, saying something is ‘the shit’ suggests that one had a great time.


Finally, ‘damn.’ The least offensive of the three ‘core’ swear words.

The origin of ‘damn’ goes back to the Old French word ‘damner,’ which means to condemn. This word was first adopted into the English language around the fourteenth century and would often be found in religious contexts; for instance, damnation referred to God’s punishment.

However, starting from the seventeenth to eighteenth century, ‘damn’ began to be used as a profanity in the context of ‘I don’t care’: ‘I don’t give a damn.’

Although it may not seem like ‘damn’ is the kind of swear word that would be taken seriously now, it was actually considered a serious profanity back in the 1700s up until about 1930; society at the time actively avoided this word because it was considered impolite and indecent.

A large portion of today’s generation rely on swearing in order to boost their self-esteem and ego. Effectively, swear words do have some sort of magical power over us — we learn and pick them up from others when we are young, even though they are taboo.

Then, as we grow older, swearing ultimately becomes a tool to emphasize points and heighten emotions. After all, what’s the first thing you typically say after you’ve stubbed your toe?

Learning the etymology of profanity, which a good amount of people are already attached to, definitely elevates one’s linguistical knowledge. And if you don’t fancy delving into the Oxford English Dictionary, I am confident that Urban Dictionary will amuse and educate you on the slightly more ‘expressive’ words that pop up in our vocabulary.

Dolce far niente

A trip to discover the secrets of one of Italy’s greatest philosophies

Dolce far niente

Upon reflecting on my first year at university, I realized that I had spent the eight months of school completely anxious, and along the road, I had developed certain beliefs about how to interact with this anxiety. It seemed as though I was immersed in an unapologetic cycle: the concept that the body could not function if not ruled by stress.

It was early June when I was given the opportunity to travel back to my home for 30 days and explore two of Italy’s most beautiful cities. The prospect of leaving everything behind for a month intrigued me. I wanted to feel like Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love and accept the enthusiastic call to finally do what my heart desired.

Even though I was, of course, aware that my trip would not be the challenging, romantic, life-altering adventure Julia Roberts had endured, I was ready to unplug from my chaotic life and embark on this journey.

A week later, at precisely 11:40 am, I landed at my first destination.

Rome: the eternal city, with its ghastly levels of pollution. A fourth-world public transport service and road piracy that results in it being considered one of the most dangerous European cities for pedestrians. Yet, underneath the layer of quotidian horrors, there remains an inexpressible splendour that enables the city to be the most ambiguous object of tourist desires.

There is a sense of security that comes with losing oneself in Rome’s varied history. The city bears no resemblance to anywhere else on the planet. It is a place that offers an eccentric cultural buffet submerged within the eras of the city’s past glory.

Sigmund Freud once wrote that Rome is “a psychical entity with a similarly long and copious past, an entity… in which nothing has once come into existence will have passed away and on the earlier phases of development continue to exist alongside the latest one.”

You can visit the Ancient Forum to stroll back in time to the Rome of Julius Caesar. Admire the masterfully created mosaics on the pavement of the Pantheon to caress the medieval ages. Rest your gaze upon Michelangelo`s Sistine Chapel to fully immerse yourself in the Renaissance. To complete your visit, throw three coins in the Trevi Fountain to be splashed back into the Baroque era.

The eternal city is one of the most unique places on the planet. Rome is a melting pot of Italian culture and the birthplace of the idea of the dolce far niente.

Get lost in the cities that make up Italy. Eat good food, drink good wine, and soak in the sun’s rays as you explore. Italy is laden with beautiful architecture, hidden alleyways, and blue skies. MARTINA TOMASELLI/THE VARSITY

I lived in Italy for eleven years. I am a native.

I was born in a small town by the metropolis that is Milan.

I speak Italian fluently.

And I believe every type of cuisine other than my own is inferior.

Yet I can’t say I am a master of the philosophy of the dolce far niente.

The idea behind the “sweetness of doing nothing” goes beyond the simple translation of spending time doing absolutely nothing.

A distinctive feature of Rome, indeed, is that it pulses with life every second of your stay, as it bestows upon you the innocent feelings of enthusiasm, curiosity, and spontenaity.

Rome is a hectic city. Chaos and disorder prevail. However, if visited with the correct mindset, the city allows your senses to be the guide, making you feel like the first visitor in over two thousand years to truly understand her creations and charms.

The dolce far niente encapsulates Italy`s mindset that moments of slow and pure pleasure are the base of a good life. The dolce far niente is about gutless joy, and such philosophy continued to be elongated in my second destination.

Florence: the fulcrum of Italy’s intellectual, artistic, and cultural heritage. The Tuscan capital drips with art, architectural charm, and locals who are as fiery as they are friendly.

The picturesque sight of Florence is further refined by the delicate folds of the Tuscan hills which the city lies within, the arrays of cypresses that frame its perimeter, and the mighty Arno river that slashes through the town.

By day, many troupes of tourists flock the piazzas to admire the awe-inspiring works of the world’s greatest artistic masters: Michelangelo, Botticelli, Brunelleschi, da Vinci, and Raffaello.

Crowds of people gawp at the treasures of the various jewellery stores of the Ponte Vecchio and others hasten to Piazza della Signoria to take a picture of the ‘other’ David. As the sun falls underneath the horizon, calmness prevails.

As the last beam of sunlight illuminates the city’s picturesque homes and monuments, laden with the colours of peaches, tangerines, and lemons, Florence’s idyllic night life begins. With aperitivo glasses clinking against each other, the various piazzas become crowded and musicians play soothing lullabies. Unlike Romans, Florentines seem to never be in a state of hectic confusion. Time pressure is a concept not known in Florence, and neither is stress.

A month later, far from the busy streets of Toronto, I am sitting by the Arno dangling my legs over the calm water, caressing the endless blooms of the fragrant herbs around me.

As these weeks have passed, I have found myself sliding away from my responsibilities and anxieties, while at the same time happily adjusting to the relaxed rhythm of this country.

Although I spent but a few weeks traveling through Italy, I was able to learn a lot from its people and bring back the greatest teaching of all: in order to fully enjoy life, we need to savour a few moments a day of gutless joy.

That is what the dolce far niente encompasses.

It is not the stereotypical slogan that portrays Italians as lazy, but rather a psychological philosophy that we should all embrace to lead happier and better lives.

Whether it is disconnecting from social media, enjoying a dinner with your loved ones, or taking a day of rest, doing nothing and enjoying the present is perhaps the greatest appreciation for the blessings we have.

“I’ll show you how valuable Elle Woods can be!”

10 films and TV shows to maintain motivation for another school year

“I’ll show you how valuable Elle Woods can be!”

Pull up your socks, plaster on a smile, and try and make it to your 9:00 am classes. Not only does September mark the beginning of the school year, but it’s also a good time for a spiritual and emotional cleansing.

Gone are the mistakes, issues, and shortcomings of life before Labour Day. They don’t matter anymore, now that you’re entering the next chapter of your life.

Since you’re beginning this new chapter, it would be nice to gain some motivation and build momentum toward your goals. If you’re like me, you get much of your motivation from watching fictional characters work hard to overcome the obstacles they face. There’s a specific way in which film and television romanticizes hard work and determination that you wish you could just apply to your everyday life.

In that vein, here is a list of films and TV shows that I have curated specifically for the student looking to feel motivated this fall.

For romanticizing campus life: Mistress America

Mistress America gets you into the campus mood because much of the film takes place on campus. It stars Lola Kirke as Tracey, a young woman trying to find her niche when she starts university in the city. Mistress America feels like a quintessential U of T film; it even includes fun campus quirks such as fro-yo socials, uncomfortable dorm parties, and a secret literary society.

For career goals: The Bold Type

While The Bold Type is a show about the workplace, it still motivates the student. In essence, it focuses on three career-oriented women trying to advance in their respective career paths. The Bold Type emphasizes the millennial value of finding a meaningful career because this show challenges its characters, and by extension, its audience, to broaden their horizons and work harder towards success. Plus, Melora Hardin is just as iconic as Jacqueline Carlyle.

For ultimate motivation: Legally Blonde

This is the ultimate university motivation film. The scene alone when Warren tells Elle that she isn’t smart enough, resulting in Elle exclaiming, “I’ll show you how valuable Elle Woods can be,” is enough to sell you. Elle initially attends law school out of spite, but she quickly develops an affinity for practicing law. Legally Blonde showcases a motivational character working hard and proving her intelligence, despite the constant opposition and ridicule she experiences.

For tenacity: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel follows a format similar to Legally Blonde format of a woman motivated to succeed following a breakup. It stars Rachel Brosnahan as Miriam “Midge” Maisel, a woman working hard to make it in the stand-up comedy field despite the limitations set up against her as a woman in the 1950s.

For the creative type: Mozart in the Jungle

I have a deep appreciation for anyone going into a creative or artistic field. It feels like the odds of achieving success are stacked against them, yet they power through anyway. Mozart in the Jungle is a show that understands this commitment to art. It understands the sacrifices, hardships, and excitement you experience when things finally work out.

For fun: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Out of all the shows or movies on this list, Buffy is the most fun. At its core, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a show about growing up and what it means to become an adult. Though it’s not necessarily about studying, it’s one of those shows that inspires you to find your calling. The show does a surprisingly great job of portraying the transition to university life and how demanding university can be. Plus, the perfect antidote for school-time fatigue is watching Sarah Michelle Gellar punch demons in the face. Trust me.

For dealing with transition: Lady Bird

Lady Bird is about Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a young woman who wants to broaden her horizons and move beyond her suburban hometown of Sacramento. While the film supports Lady Bird’s ambitions, she grows an appreciation for where she comes from that can only be acquired once you leave. This is a tender coming-of-age story about the difficult transition to university life.

For new experiences: Grace and Frankie

Grace and Frankie follows a pair of motivated women focused on rebuilding their lives after their husbands come out of the closet. The reason this ‘dramedy’ series about women in their 70s resonates with students is simple: they’re both highly motivated women who prove that the excitement for change experienced in Lady Bird doesn’t just stop when you reach a certain age. There are always new experiences to be had; the key is to keep trying.

For romanticizing studying: Gilmore Girls

There’s no show that romanticizes education like Gilmore Girls. This show actually understands the hard work and determination put in by students every day. It also reminds us how great it is to be in a place where our responsibility is to learn. It’s not surprising that Rory Gilmore has inspired an entire generation of motivated students. If you’re looking to stay motivated, don’t watch A Year in the Life, the sequel to Gilmore Girls.

For when things don’t work out: Frances Ha

Frances Ha is the companion film to Mistress America. This is a film that normalizes being in a place where you don’t have everything together quite yet, but that’s okay. Some things just take time, and university is one of those things. If you’re feeling down or things aren’t going your way, just take a deep breath and remember it takes time to find the right groove.

10 tips for getting through first year unscathed

Step outside your comfort zone — everyone else is desperately searching for their lifelong friends, too

10 tips for getting through first year unscathed

The beginning of the school year is always new and exciting. Second years are embarking on the first year of their majors, many fourth years are entering their final semesters, and third years — well, they just have one more year left until their final year, so that’s something.

Yet, somewhere far outside the confines of Toronto, past Mississauga and Scarborough, the faint squeals of incoming first years can be heard. Frosh!

Welcome to U of T, class of 2022! Thank you for joining us. Disregard our dishevelled hair, deep eye bags, and pungent smell.

Your first year will become a collection of great — and some not so great — memories of exploring your massive campus, attempting to understand classroom locations, and realizing that apparently everything you learnt about writing in high school is useless.

To ensure that you survive your frosh year unscathed, I have compiled a list of my 10 top tips:

1. Acknowledge from the beginning that your frosh experience is primarily dependent on your college or faculty, and it may not be what you initially anticipated. Vic, have fun at your dry frosh. St. Mike’s, you are no longer the party college your parents went to, sorry to disappoint. UC, look forward to chilling in the Whitney courtyard. And Trin kids, well, what you’ve seen in college movies is a pretty good portrayal of the escapades you’ll have during your first year. Also, everyone’s going to hate you — #sorrynotsorry.

2. Make the most of frosh week. No matter how silly you might think the cheers are, scream them at the top of your lungs — I promise it’s fun!

3. Talk to as many people as possible. Everyone else is just as nervous and desperate to find their lifelong friends as you are.

4. Try everything in your café or dining hall. Not only will you discover exactly what the tastiest food is, but you will also quickly figure out what may give you food poisoning.

5. Lose your room key early on. Most people might think this is the opposite of good advice, but the shame I felt when the front desk lady rolled her eyes at me was so unbearable that from then on, I always knew where I left my key.

6. Give up on trying to remember the names of accomplished alumni. Just know that they’re pretty much all old white guys and Margaret Atwood.

7. Become friends with your residence dons! They are usually lovely, hilarious people, and they’re also great for emotional, social, and academic support.

8. Avoid Robarts at all costs. That looming turkey — it’s not a peacock — sucks the energy from everyone who enters. Why put yourself through that when there are 43 other libraries across the three campuses to explore?

9. Step outside of your comfort zone and get involved! U of T is huge and boasts clubs for everyone. It might take some effort to find a crochet club, but I assure you that you can find one that will support your interests. If not, then start one yourself!

10. Buy Muji pens! I didn’t know what Muji was until I moved to Toronto, but let me tell you, nothing is more orgasmic than gliding the tip of a Muji pen over a piece of paper. Nothing!

These are just some tips to help you survive your first year. Whether you follow them all or not, I hope your frosh year is everything you want it to be and more!

Oh, and one more thing. The most important tip of all — don’t wear nice shoes to frat parties, unless you want them to be destroyed.


From SoCal to Toronto: Navigating the wonderful world of winter activities

How ice skating and ice hockey helped me become the happiest version of myself

From SoCal to Toronto: Navigating the wonderful world of winter activities

People who live within reach of ice often find themselves at odds with its creeping, heat-sapping fingers. Ice isn’t the most hospitable. Or the most helpful. Or even preventable. In truth, ice is quite a nuisance.

I suppose you could say people have a complex relationship with ice. I, for one, certainly did.

Growing up in Southern California, ice activities were a kitschy luxury — something you did when you wanted to avoid the pretense of enjoying the beach. Figure skaters were folk tales, and hockey was just something Canadians did, maybe.

When I arrived at university in the heat of August, I had no idea of the icy wonderland Toronto would become. As it turned out, ice was waiting patiently for me on the periphery. With a dangerous combination of my friends, the True North Strong and Free, and some sheer dumb luck, ice moved from the sidelines to straight under my sweaty, nervous feet in skates.

One fateful week in late November, my friends, as good, Instagramming university students, formally requested we go to Nathan Phillips Square. Any normal Art History specialist might have jumped at the photo op, but me? I was scared stiff.

In the past, my wide feet and more mediocre friends had made me feel as though I could not be ‘good’ at ice skating. It’s difficult to ignore old insecurities, and my anxieties tripped into a conviction that I just couldn’t do it. I told myself that I was going to fail before I even tried, but both my friends and the ice were having none of that.

Even though I could barely balance without someone holding me up, my friends ever so gently took my fear in their hands, ripped it straight out of my chest, and made me skate over it, again and again. By the end, I couldn’t imagine not being on the ice. Frozen water had actually convinced me that I was good enough.

This was my first change to who I was in years.

From there, it all just snowballed perilously out of control. I saw my first Varsity Blues ice hockey game against the Queen’s Gaels — and got a puck, no less! — and fell in love instantly. The 2017–2018 school year then became both my first year in university and my first year as a hockey fan. Who knew sports could be fun?

Just like ice skating, I had always told myself sports weren’t my thing. I was never very athletic or physical. Soccer, volleyball, and — God forbid — baseball, never really did it for me. But when I watched my first ice hockey game?

Oh, man.

Remember the first time you listened to your favourite song? Or how it feels when you see someone you really love? Or when a movie makes you weep tears of joy? I felt like a little kid again. It had highs and lows, drama, fights, passion, and some sick jerseys. And plastic discs flying at the speed of cars in school zones!

And my new friend, ice.

Ice skating had instilled a sense of confidence in me that I didn’t know I could have, and ice hockey provided me with a community that I didn’t know I could belong to. In an odd way, ice allowed me to become my favourite version of myself.

Ice is that annoying little sibling that we wish to get away from but also can’t stand to leave entirely. Of course, it might cause you to slip in the middle of Queen’s Park right in front of a really cute guy, but it can also turn your lemonade into a delicacy and a boring winter’s day into a crystallized miracle.

So, if you’re in the area, take my advice and stop by some ice. Shoot the breeze! Live a little! Who knows, it might just change your life.

Take it from me, ice certainly isn’t all it seems to be.

Learning from home

When travel is out of the question, alternative learning experiences abound

Learning from home

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.

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

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.

[pullquote-features]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.”[/pullquote-features]

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. 

Opening up to culture

The importance of cultural awareness when exploring a new country

Opening up to culture

The Millennial generation is often said to be fraught with a certain wanderlust that simply did not affect their predecessors. Fueled by the rapid growth of mobility and connectivity worldwide, they have an unparalleled desire to travel. Along with globalization, however, comes an increased need for renewed cultural understanding.

I have been teaching English in Indonesia this summer, in a small city called Padang. Not many locals here speak English, but rising demand has pushed English Language Centres to hire interns from around the world. Travelling has made me increasingly aware of how sequestered we all are in our society’s way of life, and how important it is to always work towards widening our perspectives, regardless of where we are in the world.

My experience abroad has not always been easy; I personally struggled tremendously to adjust to life without toilet paper or Internet. But, after just two months here, I relish the refreshingly cold bucket showers, the quiet reading time, and even weaving through traffic. My fellow interns report similarly altered perspectives as well, speaking of a newfound ability to see beauty in the chaos they once dreaded.

In a world of 7.4 billion people, it is estimated that only 1.5 billion people speak English. That leaves 5.9 billion people with whom many of us cannot communicate through speech and who often lead incredibly different lives to our own.

Some of us cannot even imagine living without Netflix, let alone WiFi or running water. We forget that only about 40 per cent of the world has access to Internet and about the same number of people are without access to running water. As an aggregate, this represents almost three billion people. This is not to mention levels of economic inequality: the average person in America’s bottom five per cent is richer than 68 per cent of the world’s population.

Clearly, most of us cannot even begin to relate to most of the world’s population. As a group of interns from abroad, our collective lack of cultural understanding often speaks volumes.

[pullquote-features]Culture is often unconscious to us — so is the subliminal projection of our beliefs onto others. Such a phenomenon leads to inaccurate impressions that cause conflict in all spheres, breeding hatred that can sometimes prove lethal.[/pullquote-features]

This was brought to light during an interaction I recently had while travelling to the city of Solok. At a brief sightseeing stop, an intern from North America slid beside me into the car and pulled on his seatbelt.

Seatbelts remain fairly unused on this side of the world, so we jokingly told him that he really did not need to be wearing one. He looked down at me with an unsettling look of contempt and said, “I want to show these people how a developed citizen behaves.”

I was taken aback by his malicious undertones and lightheartedly retorted that I had spent most of my life in developed countries too. Without hesitation he replied, “But you’re not really from a developed country, you’re from Pakistan.

What aggravated me was not his stance on road safety, but his ethnocentric attitude — an attitude that said his wealth could buy him superior status. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon experience, as many of us lack a capacity for cultural understanding, which is necessary to relate to and respect people around the world.

Culture is often unconscious to us — so is the subliminal projection of our beliefs onto others. Such a phenomenon leads to inaccurate impressions that cause conflict in all spheres, breeding hatred that can sometimes prove lethal.

It is basic human nature to fear what we do not understand; the problem arises when we fail to see that the majority will not be familiar to us. The relatively minor individual variations within our own cultures can seem so pronounced at times that we believe greater differences could not possibly exist — research, however, consistently proves otherwise.

It is apparent that travel is not a surefire way — nor is it the only way — to widen our global perceptions. We are incredibly privileged to be living in one of the most diverse environments in the world, surrounded by people who have a plethora of different beliefs and backgrounds. Learning to accept diversity begins with admitting what we do not know and regularly checking any assumptions we may make. With a campus as diverse as ours, we have the unmatched opportunity to branch out beyond our comfort zones and try to understand the unfamiliar.

My time in Indonesia has made it clear to me that we should all be working towards a heightened stage of cultural awareness — where we can understand that differences are necessary to sustain a healthy level of diversity and mutual understanding. Letting go of control and learning to be comfortable with ambiguity is the key to finding harmony.

By actively practicing empathy and altering our perspectives, we can work towards living in a space where we are able to accept others; we can create a common ground that we all share.

Ayesha Adamjee is a second-year student at Victoria College studying philosophy and English.