Many globetrotters travel to discover new worlds filled with rich culture, history, and food. It is a learning opportunity my trip to Colombia helped me understand.

Pick a destination and explore
Pick a destination and explore
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

For many, traveling is an ideal learning prospect, a chance to embrace another heritage. There’s a difference amongst the people whether you’re going abroad or to another state. Sometimes the differences come through in the form of food or language; other times, it becomes embedded into the stories shared for generations. Many people travel to learn and meet new people, and I’m no exception.

Since I was young, I’ve loved traveling. Of course, when I was a kid, it was more about going on vacation. As I grew up, I realized how much I love learning about other cultures. My diverse family and multi-cultural upbringing is a significant factor in this fascination. Traveling across the States has shown me each state has a culture of its own – folktales from Hawaii are vastly different than those in South Dakota. When we travel, we gain new experiences and discover diverse lands first-hand. There’s an opportunity to learn history, embrace the culture, and try delicious foods. 

Sometimes what’s considered polite in one country isn’t in another. Venturing around the globe is enticing. It opens doors to new worlds that we can carry through life.

Embrace the History

Every place we go has a past
Every place we go has a past
Photo by Sarah Doffman on Unsplash

Footprints are left everywhere we go, memories from the past. Each place has a unique history imprinted in it, and sometimes it’s the history that shaped the land. It gives people unique stories to share with you. Understanding a culture becomes easier once a bond has been established with the locals. 

When I talk about this, I often find myself thinking about my trip to South America, specifically Colombia. In 2019, my family traveled to three Colombian cities to see my uncle’s homeland. The country has a diverse, rich history that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Andes Mountains. All the stories shared with my family were interesting; however, much of the information I remember come from the city of Medellín. It has a dark history of once being the murder capital of the world. 

Parts of Comuna 13 are decorated with street art
Parts of Comuna 13 are decorated with street art
Photo by Kobby Mendez on Unsplash

That trip will always remain clear in my mind, and one of the many stories came from a woman whose neighborhood was terrorized by the cartel years ago. She was from Comuna 13, a community in Medellín. While she showed my family around the art district of Comuna 13, she pointed out a wall filled with bullet holes. It was an imprint of the violence.

I’ve never been able to find the story she told us online nor a photo of the wall. Had I not traveled, I wouldn’t understand why local artists took to the streets, reclaiming their hometown and making it beautiful again. It’s easy to know Medellín shifted from a state with a dark history that, with time, evolved to one booming with guided tourism once it became safe. However, it’s hard to understand without talking to the locals and hearing the stories they lived. 

The history I’ve learned through exploring is like nothing else. It’s colorful and unique. Maybe it’s my own love for learning, but I’ve found people have stories more fascinating than anything I could read in a book about travel. Each account reveals another part of history, and everyone has information to share. 

Dive into the Culture

The less you pack, the easier travel is
The less you pack, the easier travel is
Photo by Ibrahim Rifath on Unsplash

Many love traveling because it’s a chance to embrace something new, to jump into a brand new culture. That could bring you to a cityscape, the mountains, a rainforest, or just about anywhere else. It also provides the perfect opportunity for growth. My Japanese professor advised the class to go to a local Japanese market in university, especially if we planned on visiting Japan. It would give us a chance to practice our Japanese, try the food, and get the slightest taste of the culture.

Learning about a culture isn’t specific to language, though, and it’s not the only thing tourists love about it. Interestingly, it does come with benefits. Understanding different heritages increases our empathy. The more we understand another culture, the easier it is to relate to others. 

While self-defined empathy and awareness are unreliable measurements, it stands to reason that cross-cultural exposure through travel would at least create conditions for checking conscious and unconscious biases. 

Travel is said to increase cultural understanding. Does it?, National Geographic

Take, for instance, my trip to Colombia, where a caste system exists. In America, where I was born and raised, this doesn’t exist. I and many I know have never experienced this economic system. I grasped its idea by researching it, but after going there, I saw how it affected the people. I observed the separation between the wealthy and the poor. The homes of Comuna 13 drastically contrasted with those in the high rises of the city. 

This isn’t to say globetrotters travel to better their empathy. As a tourist myself, I travel to learn and form bonds. Discovering new cultures allows us to open our eyes to a whole new world and see how others live. 

When we embrace the culture, we don’t just learn the traditions. We understand why they exist. I’ve always found that beautiful because it ensures it carries on. I and many learn through experience; traveling allows for that. 

Indulge in the Food

Empanadas are different across the globe
Empanadas are different across the globe
Photo by Patryk Pastewski on Unsplash

While the cuisine is a part of a heritage, it’s just as much its own subject. Nearly every place you go has a signature dish, something it’s known for. It could be country to country, state to state, or even city to city. I could name off at least three different pizza types in the US alone, all quite unlike Italy’s real deal.  

Food paints a picture relevant to the location and often has a story behind it. It also creates a bonding experience amongst people. Sometimes, what’s considered a pet in one country, is food in another. In Machu Pichu, Peru, a guinea pig is a delicacy and, according to my brother, pretty tasty. 

While enjoying the food is fun, it also teaches things. For example, slurping your food in America is rude, yet it’s encouraged in Japan. It’s believed that slurping your food means you enjoy it. If you’re enjoying some drumsticks in Chili, remember to use utensils, as not doing so is frowned upon. Don’t clink your spoon against your teacup in England if you’re enjoying high tea, or you may get some dirty looks.

Eating is an experience
Eating is an experience
Photo by diGital Sennin on Unsplash

Every place you go has different values centered around eating, and food bonds us. Sometimes, recipes get passed down generations. Eating is more about people than it is about food. By going to a foreign land, you experience this and carry the knowledge through life.

Understandably, traveling isn’t much of a possibility during a pandemic, but that shouldn’t stop you from forming a list of places you want to go. Maybe you already have that and want to learn more about the culture before fully embracing it. You could read a travel book or check out some videos online. Going abroad is exhilarating and creates new understandings of the world. I’ve always loved learning; it’s why I travel. Traveling to new landscapes and hearing about different cultures provides a chance to get personal with it. Pick a spot and prepare yourself to explore when the world becomes a safe place to travel again!