I seek to travel in a culture, as opposed to above a culture. I believe that many people go to another country, and never really see it. Sure, they see the famous palace, eat in the expensive restaurant, and go to the American bar. If they’re really adventurous, they ride in a taxi or take a walking tour.
I believe that the essence of a country is not in its famous sights, but in its culture, its people. It irks me that many Americans think that we do everything the “best” way. Unfortunately, I too often fall into this trap of judging another place on American standards. To judge any country on another country’s standards is unfair; as they fall short when measured by our priorities, America falls short measured on their priorities.
To be intentional about seeking out the wonderful things in other cultures, I have made it a goal to learn a lesson from every people group I enter, to incorporate a beautiful part of their culture into who I am as a person. I hope to develop into a person that is a patchwork of the rich, unique materials that many countries have to offer. I want to share with you just a few of the lessons that I have learned from the people I have come into contact with.
Love Well. I know this sounds painfully obvious, but my eyes were opened in a totally new way on my first trip, and therefore first multicultural lesson. I went to the people of Burkina Faso, a small country in French-West Africa that ranks one of the poorest countries in the world today. I visited for a month when I was just 11 and again at 16, and hope that the experience I had continues to shape my perspective. Growing up, I was very (and if we’re being honest, still am) very time-oriented. I hated being late, I hated other people being late, and I had an unhealthy regard for timelines. In Burkina Faso, they are people oriented. People come first, people are most important. When someone asks you how you are, they actually want to know. People and relationships are valued above all else.
Be generous. One of the most humbling insights I’ve gained was from children in Matamoros, Mexico. These children, without shoes, toys, proper medical or school supplies, were so generous with me. I have so much compared to these children, yet they sent me home with gifts coming from the few possessions that they had. It was so meaningful to me to see them giving despite their poverty; I will never again have a valid excuse to not share all I have with those around me.
Live Joyously. On a 2008 trip to Trujillo, Peru, I had the gift of interacting with families that lived in a garbage dump. They would wait for trucks coming in, trying to scavenge the garbage for recyclables that they could sell back. The place smelled awful, the children were dirty, the families were poor and many did not have homes. And, despite all of this, they had some of the most incredible joy that I have ever experienced. We laughed, played games, ran around in the trash as if it was a park. I never once heard them complain. They found joy in their situation.
Pura Vida. If any of you have been to Costa Rica, I’m sure seeing “pura vida” brought a smile to your face. I lived in this beautiful country for a summer after my freshman year of college. The country ranks as one of the most friendly in the world, largely due to their disposition. Pura vida translates to “pure life” and is often the used as an answer to “how are you doing,” a hello on the street, or a difficult situation. They don’t get caught up on the little things or focus on menacing difficulties, but instead just enjoy life.
Don’t have problems. This may sound like an amusing catchphrase initially, but hang in there with me. I came back from a trip to the island of Jamaica with a life lesson that I treasure to this day: “there are no problems, there are only situations.” As a simple sentence, this may not do much for you. But if it becomes an attitude, a perspective, it is life-changing. To view difficult things in life as “situations” to be worked through instead of “problems” to be discouraged by is to change the way that you view, approach, and solve, said “situations.”
These are just a few of the catch phrases that I have tried to bring back with me, and, as I wrote, one thing kept coming to mind again and again: despite the situation. Despite the situation, I should love well, be generous, live joyously, enjoy pura vida, and believe that there are no problems, only situations.
As I go to SouthEast Asia for the first time, it is again my goal to seek out life lessons in the culture, to come back a better, more complete person because of the time that I spent there.
Have you learned any lessons from other cultures?