One of the best lessons I have learned throughout the years has been that learning about cultures is one of the best ways to open up my own world and think out out of the box. Having lived in both multicultural and fairly non-diverse communities, I learned to respect a process of learning about the other side of the equation. And there’s always that other side of life.
Travel is one of the ways to widen our horizons and develop respect and curiosities for a different point of view. Knowing that there’s a different point of view can bridge people, cultures, cease wars and mis-understandings.
Take a look how affordable the ways of learning about different cultures could be! All comes from a renowned author and traveler Kathryn Ramsperger.
When I first moved to Washington, DC, I loved window shopping in Georgetown. On one stroll, I overheard two women chatting, speaking French. And I understood them! French was not something I was used to hearing in downtown Salem, VA, where I’d spent my teen years, but I’d studied it. I began a halting conversation with them, they were kind to me, encouraging instead of judgmental. We still keep in touch, though both have returned to France, and since living overseas, my French has improved.
It can be that easy, but sadly, these days people are more isolated – working too many hours, texting and tweeting instead of phoning, and even a bit shy approaching people who seem different from themselves. What if they get rejected?
Here are some easy and creative ways to start a dialogue with people of other cultures.
Join or Start An Online Group
If you find new friends online, try starting a group with similar interests. Your group could also raise funds for an organization like my friend Sarah Armstrong’s Brighter Futures for Africa or another cause like women’s microfinance in developing countries. Or join a meetup.com group. You could also be proactive and just start a group that enjoys and promotes diversity of all sorts.
Strike up a conversation. The best way to do this is with questions. Simple, like: “May I sit here?” Or “My name is Kathryn. What’s yours?” Find out if you share interests; you probably do.
You can graduate to the more complex if you strike up a friendship: “How does living in this state or city differ from where you lived before?” NOT “Where were you born?” or “Where are your ancestors from?”
Throw a party!
I like to meet as many friends in person as often as possible. Invite as many people as you know and add some people you’d like to get to know better. I and other friends host potlucks at least once a year. Or attend an organized event. A bonus idea: Have a potluck where everyone brings a family dish/recipe.
Offer to Help
Volunteer! You might want to start teaching English as a second language once a week, or participate in groups that welcome people into your community. If someone moves into your neighborhood, help them move in or offer them a meal while they’re unpacking.
Get away from home. Experience feeling out of balance because you’re different and don’t speak the language well. Immerse yourself in your surroundings. Talk to everyone you meet (well, almost…use your judgment). Get a job or internship overseas. Here’s a great example of fostering international understanding through travel from my friend and fellow author Colleen Aterston.
A great way to travel is through study. A lot of people think study abroad is just for college-aged students, but plenty of other study opportunities exist all over the world. Or create your own.
Cultivate the Arts
The arts transcend any language and speak directly the soul. Opportunities abound. One example: Global Literature in Libraries Initiative. You could choose a year’s worth of books from this site, and start a book club to discuss them. Or attend readings by authors from other countries, visit art exhibits from other countries, listen to a variety of music. Savor the difference.
Get Out of Your House More
My protagonists in my novel The Shores of Our Souls, Lebanese Qasim and American Dianna, aren’t looking for each other the night they meet, but they fall in love the minute they start a conversation. If I hadn’t been strolling down M Street in Georgetown that summer day long ago, I may have missed making two dear friends.
I believe it’s tougher to make true friends without meeting face to face, creating a dialogue, having fun with them and getting to know them. So next time you’re bored, don’t hop on the computer. Open your door and step out, drive, or fly into a whole new world!