This post was written by Garrett Russell.
Every aspect of the environment in which I grew up defines who I am. My language, my customs, my values and morals all define me as a person. I am very proud of my heritage, and there are many things that I don’t want to ever forget or be forced to give up.
I travel to get the best sense of a culture I possibly can. I try to avoid places that cater to the traveler in hopes of meeting people untouched by tourism. I try to be tough and never complain, because affirming I can assimilate into a culture without much hassle is a way of proving to those people I am worthy of their culture.
Not being able to eat the food that is provided for you, not adhering to the required dress code, or being unwilling or unable to participate in the customs can be considered disrespectful. The last thing I want to do is disrespect another culture, so I try my hardest to conform.
The exotic lifestyle appeals to so many travelers. Some strive to find the civilization farthest from the modern world. Many want an experience far from the norm that acts as an escape from the everyday. Many find this lifestyle so intriguing that they never want to leave.
At what moment, after leaving your culture to adopt another, do you realize that you might have given up too much? Are we all willing to forget where we came from in order to merge into something new? How can you express your life to another culture without giving the impression of insensitivity? How much food can you eat that you dislike just to be polite? Do you tell your host that you don’t like some things just to make the majority of what you eat comforting?
For people living outside their traditional society for extended periods, how much of their past comforts do they keep with them? How much do they let go of without forgetting where they came from? If you insist on retaining some morsels of home, are you continuously distancing yourself from your resident culture? At what point is that considered rude and disrespectful? At what point does cultural sensitivity expire to accommodate our basic needs?
There is a universal need for tolerance and a basic understanding of all cultures - in every culture - no matter how broad the differences are. This is by no means a political stance but a necessity for all citizens of the world.
As soon as you step out of your doorstep and enter another country, you are a representative of the place you were born. Be sensitive, yet be strong in your own beliefs. Share who you are and learn to embrace those around you. This is why we travel. This is why we sacrifice months of our hard earned money. If you let it, the effects will only change you for the better, but in many cases, it’s a hard choice to make.