No matter where we’re from or what our stories are, there is one thing that follows us around. You can’t escape it, you can’t hide from it, and you certainly cannot agree to all of it! It’s worse than the drunken night we ended up passing out on the yard. It is much worse than that one time you got food poisoning and ended up on the toilet for the majority of your trip! It is something that we are all guilty of, no matter how much we want to deny it.
And as we travel, this little thing creeps up in the back of our minds. It’s what holds us back from reaching out and making connections. It’s the factor that makes us scared to go somewhere, or wary because of what we’ve heard. This little thing can ruin perceptions, experiences, and friendships.
Stereotypes are bound to us
Before we even get to the nitty gritty of our stories, our likes and dislikes, our favorite color – a stereotype looms over us. It could be due to our nationality, our race, our ethnic background, or our accent! And no matter how far we travel or even within our own countries, we are faced with stereotypes everyday. Being from the United States, there are stereotypes such as: we’re loud, we suck at geography, and we think we’re the center of the Universe. Are these true or not?
While traveling, no one wants to be judged on the actions of their country. *
ahem, Trump, ahem.* No one also wants to be judged on the political system in place, the stereotypes that surround your nationality, and more. When we’re in a new place, it’s like having a new slate or a fresh start. So when people ask me “Where are you from?” and I respond with the United States, I’m always welcomed with a mixed array of reactions. Some are good, some are bad, and some are just plain confused – but nonetheless, I try to be a cultural ambassador to my country. Here are a few ways you can, too!
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Respect cultural customs
Traveling as a cultural ambassador means representing your country in a positive light, as well as being able to respect and learn from someone else’s country. This definitely applies to respecting a country’s cultural customs, whether it be dressing a bit more modestly, not using your left hand to eat or shake hands, or not having a phone conversation on the metro, this shows respect for a culture’s customs.
For example, while traveling around Italy, my mom, sister, and I decided to visit Vatican City. Of course, this is the home of the Pope! So, it is understandable that showing your shoulders may not be the most appropriate, short shorts are not allowed, and anything showing your midriff is a BIG no no. While I saw other travelers with modest lengths for shorts, pants, dresses, or skirts, there were a few that showed up with some short shorts! Respecting the dress code for certain religious areas shows that you are mindful and thoughtful to another culture’s customs.
Cleaning up after ourselves
There is nothing I hate more than seeing people leave their trash and litter in public areas. It is gross. It is disgusting. Are we THAT lazy that we can’t pick up our trash and put it into the trash can? This is so true during any festivals that you attend. Although trashcans can be overflowing, it doesn’t give us the right to dump our trash on the floor for someone else to pick up. The reputation that we leave after partying it up on the beaches of Thailand for the Full Moon Festival, or wherever else we are, ultimately leaves an impression on the people that call this place home on a regular basis. Cleaning up after ourselves can show a host country or city, how we respect their homes, for more than the tourist spot we want it to be.
Welcome open and mature discussion
I’m sure there are stereotypes about every country in the world. United States citizens are all loud, love their guns, and tip more than they should. Spaniards are seen as lazy, partiers, and bull-fighting fanatics. What is your country’s stereotype? Having open and mature discussions with people from different countries helps facilitate growth and education. Trust me, arguing and becoming hot-headed because of something someone said about our country gets us no where. Instead, I TRY (keyword here) to have an honest discussion about why someone thinks that, why they perceive us this way, and try to provide my own experiences and opinions. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But, I’ve learned that talking civilly is much more beneficial, than arguing about why they’re wrong (or right).
Educate besides getting angry
Since being home, I haven’t had the opportunity to travel abroad as often. But, I still interact with a lot of my friends and adopted family abroad. When the election happened, there were a lot of questions, and a lot of different opinions around social media and the community. Having those open and mature discussions was so important to understand what everyone else was thinking. As I’ve learned, educating besides getting angry means you go high when they go low. A lot about misunderstanding a culture or judging it comes from lack of information and ignorance. When we educate about our own cultures, customs, or traditions, this helps people outside of our home country to understand more. And understanding is something that we all want.
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Although there are many things we hear about in the news that make us cynical or wary, kindness prevails. Well, I personally believe love always prevails, but kindness is tied into that! I am a big believer that whatever energy you put out into the world, it will come back at you 10 fold. The kindness of strangers that I’ve met while on the road has always kept my spirits high. I’ve befriended the young, the old, and people my own age, who have all opened their arms and invited me into parts of their life. Kindness goes a long way, y’all. And once we start acting in kindness, I think the world starts being kinder.
Just like I mentioned earlier, respect also goes a long way. Respect for cultural customs, traditions, food, language, or dress is just as important. Ultimately when you travel you are stepping into someone else’s home, enjoying parts of it, and then leaving. While you leave parts of your heart in new cities or countries, there are people there that have loved it and grown with it for years. Being respectful to each new city or country that we visit, is the least we can do.
Have an open mind
Ultimately, being a cultural ambassador means having an open mind. An open mind to new experiences, new relationships, new adventures, and new emotions. When traveling we are a representation of our countries, no matter where we are. While it’s fun to let loose in a new area, live the carefree lifestyle, or shed our worries, there is more to it than that. For me, travel has always been about exchanging, learning, and building. We are the cultural ambassadors who are lucky enough to meet and connect with new cultures and new people. Ditch the stereotypes and open yourself up for what the trip will unfold, we may learn a thing or two to take back to our own cultures!
For having the privilege to travel far yonder or right here in our home countries, it’s our obligation to be positive representations of where we come from. We are the cultural ambassadors that will ultimately lead the countries, the nations, and more.
What do you think is important for a cultural ambassador?
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20 thoughts on “How to be a Cultural Ambassador While Traveling”
Nuraini, thank you for your insights on this topic. I really agree with everything that you said, and now that “travel” is such a huge buzz word, and everyone wants to do it, there are certain things about etiquette that we all need to remember when visiting another country. It’s not just for our own enjoyment, but we’re actually stepping in to someone’s home town, someone’s home country, and taking part in their traditions and seeing parts of the history that has shaped their modern culture now.
Sometimes, I think people forget that part, so it’s always good to sit back and reflect on those aspects.
Yes, exactly! That’s the same thing I think about, that if I’m the only American that someone were to ever meet – I want them to leave with a positive thought! (:
Totally on board… I think it speaks to the original code of the traveller. Up until modern times, there is almost universally the implicit code of conduct for the traveller arriving as a guest to a foreign land, and the reciprocal code of hospitality for the hosting nation. Back then surviving in a foreign land depends on being liked well enough and adapting to the systems of that land. And excellent hospitality was a mark of a nation’s strength and honour, to be capable and willing of magnanimity and protection to the stranger – not a mark of economic need to be taken for granted. How well each side carries out these roles speaks of the character of the nation more than probably anything else, in a time where a nation is known in faraway lands only through their travellers.
I think while there have been economic benefits from modern tourism, the capitalism aspect seems to have somehow encouraged people to think paying for a holiday absolves them from the conduct of a guest.
I think the advent of the travel bug era could go both ways – either bringing back this etiquette to civilisation, or completely trashing it for good. I am hoping and working for the former.
Such an important and insightful post. I feel like I represent not just myself, but my country when I travel. I may be the only American someone ever meets, and I want them to remember me and my country fondly. Thanks for a great post!!!
Thank you, Jen and Ed! You’re so right, doing this in our own country is equally as important. I think in the US, since we’re such a melting pot of nationalities and cultures, it’s important to take a step back and learn from the neighboring cultures who are being marginalized at the moment. Haha, the course on being a good traveler would be so interesting! I’ll add that to my list of possible courses for the future!
Yes! I think getting defensive and angry are our natural reactions, because it could feel like we’re being attacked. I always have to recompose myself after someone says something and just try to be the best representative that I can.
Yes! It’s so true, and I never really experienced anything like that before because living in the US, I don’t think I’ve ever thought someone “didn’t belong” in my country because of the way they looked, their accent, or their culture. I’ve always considered the US a big melting pot of cultures and people and when I was in Spain and people wouldn’t believe me because I don’t look like “the typical” American, I was so surprised!
I actually saw that video! I thought it had been something negative before I watched it, but after watching it, I was so surprised. I’m going to have to rewatch it again because it was really interesting!
Thanks, Dave!! You’re so right, if people have the privilege to travel and meet others, why would they want to mess it up for everyone else who could be traveling for the first time and then experience prejudices and stereotypes because of travelers they encountered before!
Thanks, Katie! It’s so true, that ignorance and lack of education can really feed into prejudices and negative stereotypes. Having the hard conversations are definitely the only way to grow and learn!
That is probably my biggest pet peeve when travelers completely trash a place and then just expect other people will clean it up! Thank you, Julie! (:
Muchas gracias, Angela! Sí yo también creo que esas normas y costumbres vienen desde la casa y es importante enseñar a los niños en respetar culturas diferentes de suyos
Susan, thank you! Wow, I can’t imagine what it could be like traveling around Mexico now! How long have you been there? I’m sure the rest of the world has a lot of the same questions as to what we’re doing here in the US…
I really love this post, and I feel like all of your points are so important, not only as travelers, But also things we should remember in our own countries as well. It is too bad there isn’t a course out there on how to be a good traveler, if there was, I believe that this should be included in the curriculum 🙂
I’m glad you touch on this topic! It is easy to forget when we travel that we’re representing our country and how the locals can judge us based on the stereotype. Instead of being defensive and angry, we need to set good examples and show them how that can be wrong!
All 7 of these are very important, and they all go hand in hand. Litterbugs and people that don’t respect local customs drive me absolutely bonkers! We were talking about this re: my incident in Amsterdam and yours in Spain but I think it’s the most worst when our physical appearance/ethnicity doesn’t necessarily reflect our culture/way of life. It’s important for each one of us to be a cultural ambassador but it’s also a team effort if we want to be portrayed in a positive light. A great example is this video that Cat sent me last week (and why I get super offended when people don’t know the difference between Mainland Chinese vs HK Chinese vs Taiwanese Chinese): https://www.facebook.com/101East/videos/1457880144245461/?autoplay_reason=user_settings&video_container_type=0&video_creator_product_type=2&app_id=2392950137&live_video_guests=0
I always say stereotypes exist for a reason…because they’re true. So it’s very simple: just don’t be a stereotype of any kind! There’s nothing worse than being a stereotype. Just be original and don’t eff it up for everybody else. You’re spot on with having an open mind and not littering. These two really resonate with the way I travel. Nice share Cassandra. More people need to have a look at this one!
Great tips! I totally agree that a lot of the arguements or misconceptions come from ignorance & lack of education so those open minded conversations are so important – even if they’re hard at times when a person already has their mind made up about a country & not open to learning more! Thanks for sharing!
This is such an amazing article and great reminder to us all to be respectful of each other and different cultures. I do hate it when people leave a place trashed, its so terrible. Love all these tips and wish everyone would follow them as well!
Excelente artículo, todas esas normas y costumbres vienen desde nuestra casa, desgraciadamente no todos son así.
This is a really wonderful post! It’s something that every traveler should think really carefully about. We should be mindful of local culture abroad and follow customs accordingly.
I’m always thinking about this lately as I’m travel slowly through Mexico during this crazy political climate in the US. I have actually been so pleasantly surprised by the kindness of locals who aren’t judging me based on my country’s politics. But I’ve also gotten into some interesting discussions from Mexicans who are confused and wanting to understand what’s going on.
Your tips are fantastic. This is a great read for any traveler!
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