Pop Your Culture Bubble
This is a guest post by TampaBayScene’s Natalie Anastasia
Do you remember your first day of school? I do. My mom put my hair in two braided pigtails while I held on tightly to my Lisa Frank lunchbox, ready to take on the world.
Little did I know as a 6-year-old that “the world” expanded farther than Polly Pocket and rainbows, and that little elementary school in my little hometown in Central Florida, where the only thing we were remotely known for was our orange production.
As I got older, I was fortunate enough to have opportunities to see bits and pieces of the world.
Growing up in Florida, visiting the Caribbean was easy. I had the chance to visit England in high school with my best friend from across the pond. My family took the cruise of a lifetime through the Mediterranean. I’ve traveled.
However, it wasn’t until my study abroad experience that I really realized what a culture bubble I was living in.
It takes living somewhere to understand the people that inhabit that place. We tend to take the stereotypes of certain countries and communities to heart and believe them without ever witnessing them for ourselves.
This May, I studied abroad in Florence, Italy. Now I know it’s not a slum in India or some place where the culture shock would be truly overwhelming. But I can tell you: There are some very small differences that seem big to us here in the states.
When you sit down for dinner at your favorite restaurant in town, and they ask you what you’d like to drink, “just water” doesn’t cost you a dime. In Italy, however, be prepared to dish out four Euros for a bottle of still water.
What about ice? We take it for granted, but boy did I miss those fantastic little cubes cooling down a nice cola in the summer heat. (Don’t even get me started on Tijuana Flats’ ice.)
What about air conditioning? It’s everywhere in the US of A, from right at home to the shopping mall, and from the coffee shop to the movie theater. If I were to stumble across air conditioning in Florence, it would have easily made my day.
But the thing is, your days abroad are so incredible that these little differences become insignificant.
I know people say it all the time, and Elite Daily is constantly giving us the “top 10 reasons to travel before you start a job” articles, but the reason this many people say it is because it’s true.
You should explore the world beyond your own.
Before my study abroad experience, I couldn’t have told you one fact about the Czech Republic. I wouldn’t have been able to pinpoint which countries bordered Italy. I expected everyone to be familiar with the language that I speak.
When you start to travel — and I mean really travel — you begin to see and experience the cultures of other people making up our great big world.
You gain a new understanding for human nature, cultural differences and our ethnocentrism. You learn to navigate your way around overwhelming cities with transportation systems that don’t even exist in our country. You figure out how to act, how to eat and how not to tip to satisfy new cultural norms.
Learning how to be adaptable, gaining insight into other cultures and finding out that the rest of the world thinks we’re too busy in the U.S. to take a moment to relax, really makes you think.
A moment I’ll never forget on a weekend trip to Paris during my six weeks studying abroad was standing in line to enter the Notre Dame. Standing in line is always a great opportunity for people watching. People watching in Paris is like nothing in the world because you find yourself surrounded by people from all walks of life.
We saw a Chinese tour group walk by, proudly displaying their country’s flag. Behind us were a couple and a mother who seemed to be from Russia. I even heard a bit of Italian.
In that moment standing with hundreds of people waiting in line waiting to see that same church, I felt a sense of understanding. We all had something in common. Just like me, there is a place they call home. Their home may be totally and completely unfamiliar to me and different in every way possible, but we were all people waiting in line to see the same thing.
It’s difficult to understand the culture bubbles we’re living in until we really venture out.
The lessons I’ve learned in my six weeks studying abroad are lessons I could have never learned in years of living in the United States. Thanks to my food and wine professor, I don’t rush through meals. I try to enjoy every moment with family and friends with a nice glass of wine.
Thanks to the little man who owned my favorite sandwich shop in Florence, I learned that it’s okay to make a change of plans. When a sign on the shop door read, “sorry, be right back” but they weren’t back for 20 minutes, I had to laugh.
People are not always going to be on my schedule.
I won’t bore you listing off all of the lessons I learned during those short six weeks. I will, though, encourage you to live abroad and see for yourself.
Maybe you’ll find your culture bubble gets popped too.
Featured photo courtesy of: Flickr