“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
Travelling changes the way you perceive the world.
It broadens your horizons, not only physical ones but, more importantly, mental ones.
When you’re dealing with people who grew up in cultures so different from yours and who don’t understand it, a little crack opens up in your mind.
Last Wednesday I was at a Welcome day for Erasmus students at my University. I’ve been working for the International relations office as a multicultural tutor for months, in which I’ve been able to see a lot of students coming and going from many different places of the world, some of which I’d never heard of before.
One of the reasons why I’ve been chosen as a multicultural tutor is because I have done personally study periods abroad and therefore, I was familiar with all the red tapes and main problems encountered during the experience.
In fact, I was in China for two months and in Russia for three. Between the two experiences there was a gap of just one month. I can say that I left Italy as a twenty year old girl and came back as a twenty-one year old woman.
And you know what I have learned? Let the trips you take become journeys. Only this way you can get out of them more mature and enriched and not with only two fridge magnets and a snowball. You can’t plan and pay for an expensive trip if you once you get there you make fun of the culture, the language or the habits that they have there. It would just be a waste of money.
Of course, living for several months away from home as I did, is different from spending a week or two in another country as a tourist.
If you live there you have to interact with locals, to learn their language, to understand their culture. But magic happens when it’s the opposite, that is, the culture slowly slides into you and you find yourself one day preferring chopsticks over a fork and knife, and people find you weird and are afraid you’re irreversibly changed. Or when you smear Smetana (sour creamy cheese) all over your meals and wear a fur hat before going out in the snow without finding none of those things odd at all.
Theseare just the superficial aspects of two cultures, but there are indeed many others which are more profound and seriously affect your every-day life. And they do that not only because you let that sort of “national spirit” slip into you, but also because you are confident with you roots, your origins and who you are.
And with this awareness you begin to love your motherland even more, or you realize that you already loved that place that you call home, but you didn’t know it. And your culture is part of who you are. As an Italian living abroad, the first day you look for pasta on the supermarket shelves and after a month your body begs for Italian pizza.
So, you need to let the crack that was opened up at the begging spread just a little, not too much. It shouldn’t transform you, but you should embrace some things that could be useful to see the world in a different way.