A Guide to Cultural Immersion
We've all caught ourselves dreaming of visiting a beautiful place, experiencing incredible moments, and creating memories that will last a lifetime. If you, like me, have looked up the meaning of Wanderlust and know that it defines you well, then you know what I'm talking about.
When we start researching our dream trip, there are factors that will influence our decision to head in one direction or another. Personal preferences and budget are inevitably determining factors, but once that's established, have you realized how Culture is the most important issue in choosing your next trip?
Many will say they just want to eat well. Others want to visit the most famous tourist spots, and still others want to learn the language and know the locals' favorite places and what they do for fun. And if there's a place with music and dance, oh yes, we'll want to visit! And of course, bring back artifacts from the markets, carry in our bag that wonderful scarf or necklace for everyone at home to ask, "Where did you buy this?" And proudly we say, "It was on my last trip!"
All these cultural elements are part of the premeditated experience we want to have when we set foot in a new country. Music, dance, food, tourist spots, language, arts, and crafts are part of our society as a whole, and having the opportunity to experience, even if only for a few days, a culture different from ours causes the release of adrenaline and stimulates our curiosity and desire to learn. This sensory and emotional experience is a fundamental aspect of cultural tourism. According to the anthropology of tourism, this search for "otherness" or the experience of the "other" is a way to broaden our horizons and better understand our own culture in contrast with others.
When we travel, we have the chance to disconnect from our daily routine and immerse ourselves in new environments, which can have a significant impact on our psychological well-being. Studies in the field of psychology of tourism suggest that exposure to different cultures can increase tolerance, empathy, and self-awareness, in addition to contributing to stress reduction and increased life satisfaction.
So, when planning a trip, it's important to emphasize that the choice of destination should take into account not only the physical attractions or available activities but also the cultural potential the place offers. This includes exploring local history, traditions, customs, gastronomy, and forms of art and crafts. Thus, tourism becomes not only a physical journey but also an enriching journey of personal and cultural discovery.
On my last trip, I made sure to seek out traditional experiences in the country I was visiting, Turkey. I tried and made Turkish coffee, watched a Sufi ceremony, crossed the Bosphorus channel surrounded by Turkish dancers in the moonlight on a fascinating ship, got lost in the underground cities of Derinkuyu, and relaxed my body, mind, and soul with a delightful Turkish bath (one of my favorite experiences there). Although I couldn't fly in a balloon in Cappadocia due to weather conditions, I thoroughly enjoyed Turkish cuisine on those cold days with a freezing breeze that cut through the December sky. Having a new perspective when planning my trip, this time more focused on deeply exploring the local culture made my entire experience much more memorable and worthwhile.
And how can we make the most of each of our trips and still elevate our cultural vocabulary, respecting diversity and expanding our minds to the new?
That's what you'll find out next!
Consider the following aspects of Culture that arouse your greatest interest:
Places of Interest - Tourist Spots
Festivities and Events (annual, traditional)
Art and Crafts
Music, Dance, and Language
Fun and Physical Activities
Considering your budget, available time, and intention with the planning of your trip, think about your priorities.
Places of Interest X Festivals and Events
If visiting the chosen country coincides with an event you've been eagerly awaiting, why not secure your tickets? If it's time to enjoy the Carnival in Rio or the Holi Festival in India, we can visit Christ the Redeemer and the Taj Mahal on another occasion, right? Believe me, they'll still be there! And so you will have lived a unique moment that maybe only happens once a year and participated in the country's history, once again.
If your intention is to relax and eat well, look for activities that will bring you pleasant and peaceful moments. Check out the options that involve more contact with nature, outdoors, and explore local cuisine. Talk to the taxi driver, the Uber driver, the hotel receptionist. Surely all these people eat local food at a much more affordable price than that 5-star restaurant you read the review of on Google and some Unknown Mr. said it was the eighth wonder of the world. Google is our friend when we travel, yes, I'll talk about that in a moment so we understand each other with the language. But nothing replaces making real friends in the place we are visiting.
Art and Crafts
In this post, I talked about how to bring your travel experience into your classroom, but even those who are not teachers can benefit from the richness of taking home and keeping traditional art forms alive. I believe it's possible not to spend much and still have an artifact full of history to tell, representing a moment from your trip that was significant. Speaking again of Turkey, when leaving a place considered "traditional" in creating jewelry with precious stones, I met a lady hand-knitting jewelry just as beautiful, if not more, than those displayed in the luxury store. For less than a dollar, I heard about her inspiration, the challenges of being a single mother in a Muslim country, and how she was inspired to create the pieces (spring colors surrounding the city of Izmir) and also brought home a beautiful pair of earrings and a necklace. These small encounters and exchanges of information enrich us and make us reflect on the role of tourism in the lives of so many people we sometimes don't even realize.
Music and Language
Whether you're a social butterfly or a teacher who needs to be in bed by 10 p.m. like me, participating in musical experiences at any time of the day in a new country is always an incredible experience. Have you ever found yourself singing that song that marked your 2010 trip and remembered exactly who you were with and what you were doing? Music has the power to transport us to times and places we didn't even remember we had lived. So, how about on your next trip, you tune into the local radio and listen to a bit of the language of the country you're visiting? And remember our friend Google? Download the Translator app and already find out the lyrics of your new favorite song!
Know that this sound can also awaken your curiosity about who is the singer or the band, so I suggest taking a quick look on YouTube and putting a face to this voice that caught your attention. There you can also learn more about local dance styles, and when you arrive at the club or pub, you'll already be in the know about what's trending and try some steps!
Fun and Physical Activities
Not everyone travels to relax and rest on a paradisiacal beach or looking at the mountains. If you're someone who enjoys adrenaline and can't stay still during a trip, embark on the search for group options with local guides. Besides being safer and easier to plan, group activities provide a rich opportunity for social interaction and cultural exchange. According to sociological studies, participating in group activities during trips can strengthen social bonds and increase the feeling of belonging and connection with other people. Moreover, local guides provide a deeper immersion in the local culture, offering insights and experiences that are often inaccessible to tourists traveling alone. These shared experiences tend to be more memorable and meaningful, as they allow us not only to discover new places but also to build new friendships and learn from the diversity of thoughts and experiences of travel companions.
Local Fashion and Religion
There are various tourist experiences related to local religiosity, and although it is interesting and culturally enriching, it is necessary to be aware of local rules to avoid being offensive or disrespectful. If it bothers you to walk with discreet clothes covering your entire body, or if you find it unnecessary to take off your shoes or cover your head to visit mosques and temples, please avoid these places. Although tourism is responsible for a portion of the earnings of these places, the greatest desire and interest of those who care for religious sites is to spread their love for their beliefs and how much they value them. Your entrance fee is of no value if you disrespect the rules and discriminate against what the locals believe. Please reflect on this the next time you enter churches where locals are performing their daily prayers and you are just passing the time until your table at the restaurant is ready.
Cultural immersion in travel is much more than simply visiting a new place. It's a journey of self-discovery, learning, and respect for the world's diversity. Through the experiences we choose, whether exploring local cuisine, participating in festivals, learning about traditional arts and crafts, or even engaging in physical and social activities, each trip has the potential to transform us. It challenges us to step out of our comfort zone, introduces us to new perspectives, and teaches us to value not just what is different but also to find the universal in the human experience.
When planning your next trip, remember that each choice made is an opportunity to deepen your understanding and appreciation of the local culture. Be conscious and respectful of the traditions and beliefs of the places you visit. Responsible cultural tourism not only enriches your own life but also positively contributes to the communities you visit, promoting a genuine and beneficial cultural exchange.
Therefore, as you embark on your next adventure, do so with curiosity, openness, and respect. Allow yourself to be touched by the culture, the people, and the stories you encounter along the way. Each trip is unique, and the true beauty of traveling lies in how these experiences shape who we are and how we see the world. Traveling is not just about places; it's about the connections we make and the memories we create. And in the end, we bring back more than souvenirs; we bring back parts of a world that becomes, increasingly, a part of us.
What makes you wanna visit a country? What are the things that you enjoy to do when you travel? Let us know in the comments!
CEO The Multicultural Education Project