The debated official number of how many independent recognized countries exist in the world is anywhere between 189 to 196. For the sake of my point, let’s say there are more than 180. That’s quite a lot! Each of them has their own unique culture, flavor, foods, and people. I don’t know about you, but in my lifetime, I’m hoping to see the same number of countries as the length of my hopefully long life!
I’ve always been fascinated about how each country I’ve been to has had a different impact on me. What’s even more interesting is that, while I’d done international travel prior to studying abroad, being overseas during college fundamentally changed how I desired to experience foreign countries in a much deeper cultural way. Subsequently, it then changed the types of fulfillment I craved in my international trips. Once you’ve been truly immersed in a culture and it’s people, you are no longer having the surface-level touristy drive-through experience that you would normally have if you only scratched the surface of a location for 1-2 weeks. Once you’ve walked the streets with the locals, lived in their city, learned how to make their food, and spoken their language – you my friends – will develop such a thirst for the “real deal” authentic experiences that cultures have to offer instead of staying within the confines of vacation packages you read about in magazines.
With that being said, I hope your study abroad experience creates within you a huge thirst and desire to see different cultures in a deeper way. While it’s wonderful to do the fun and exciting things that Fromers or Lonely Planet recommends activity wise, and I more than encourage you to do those things, what if you thought to yourself about what deeper culture experiences you could add on as well? I challenge you to ask yourself the following question: what do I want to experience in this country and what do I need to do to feel like I saw the best of it before I come home?
After experiencing expat living, you’ll find that you may want to use your study abroad experience as a template for how you want to experience future travel escapades. You’re not just seeing a new place; you’re expanding your worldview of how others experience life. Maybe prior to study abroad when you were planning to go somewhere, the activities in the forefront of your mind were based on popularized main destinations you heard about from peers. There’s nothing wrong with these! But now, I encourage you to think about having trips where you can create memories that are so vivid and authentic that you’ll be able to recall images that ignited all five of your senses at once. By doing this, you’re doing more than just visiting a place; you’re having a deeper psychological understanding of that location.
I realize that what I’m telling you may be an amorphous concept, but I have a solution for that! Any time you go on future international trips, try to have a coupling of not only general tourists attractions (i.e. the must see stuff, cultural historic landmarks, local athletics, tours, etc.), but also challenge yourself to do a little research of off-the-beaten-path local cultural things you can do too. Ask yourself, “if I really want to experience the true culture of this place, what/where/and who do I need to see it with?” You may be surprised with the cool answers you come up with.
I can personally attest to this advice I’m giving you. Looking back, I am intensely happy that I took the initiative to go on an excursion to Nicaragua to a local village where they made pottery by hand as their town’s main source of revenue, when I spoke to local Maori people in the south island of New Zealand, and sat in a Buddhist temple in silence for hours in Seoul, South Korea. I experienced such a deeper sense of emotional and intellectual fulfillment in each of those countries. I wish this for all of you as well! Remember the words of the famous French writer and historian, Hilaire Belloc. “We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.”