I spent the summer after eighth grade in a bright orange vest, parking cars at the fairgrounds. It was August in Michigan and we had the humidity to prove it. At age 13, this was hardly the glamorous image I wanted my peers to witness, but I was determined to raise enough money to take my first mission trip out of the country. I did, I went, and I was never the same.
I’ve been incredibly blessed to travel since then; exploring the US as I moved across it, working and saving like crazy to study abroad, and finding a career where traveling was part of the gig. Each experience has offered a new and different perspective for which I’ll be forever grateful. However, to be honest, it’s not the distance that makes the difference.
Simply being curious about people and cultures that are different from my own, even close to home, is ultimately what has changed me as a person.
Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” I couldn’t agree more, and want to encourage you to expand your experiences beyond your norm. If you’re up for it, follow these four tips to stretch your mind by embracing different cultures.
It doesn’t have to be far, it just has to be different.
Often we think experiencing a new culture means going to a far away place, but it doesn’t have to. Make a plan to visit a restaurant, museum, church, or gathering place that is different from your own. Something as simple as a quick search on Meetup.com can net you a vast array of cultural groups that are usually open to the public. If you don’t live in a diverse city, plan a day trip or take a weekend to drive to one.
Do your homework.
Before you head out, do a little research about the culture and place you’re going. There may be traditions or customs that are different from your own, so knowing these ahead of time will help ensure you’re being respectful to the people and places you’re visiting. You can even reach out to someone in the community beforehand and express your interest in getting to know more about their culture.
Be open and willing to learn.
You won’t be able to learn everything from research, and experiencing the culture for yourself is the best part anyway - just be sure to take it in with an open mind and heart. Don’t only dwell on what you notice you’re not used to. Instead, embrace the differences and be curious about what you can learn from them.
One of the best things we can do to broaden our perspective is to GO. Get out into your community, your state, your country, or your world and get to know people. And don’t wait. The best time to get going is now.
You don’t have to park cars at the fairground to find a new experience, that’s for sure. But if any opportunity should arise for you to go somewhere you’ve never been, I say take it. You’ll never regret wearing that orange vest.
Photos by: Eileen Roche