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!
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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