The richness of living abroad
EMMA'S NOTES #58
In the past two years, I’ve lived in four countries that are not my home country. Recently a friend asked me what value my degree at Minerva University adds to my life.
I answered a long list, of which the items can be categorized into two:
Academic development (about which I could talk for days) and today’s topic:
Growing cultural competency.
The latter is where traveling the world comes in. My friend rightfully asked: ‘but do you need Minerva to travel the world? Can’t you do that by yourself?’
And I agree with her. We can argue whether arranging my living situation in different countries myself would be more time- and cost-efficient. It probably won’t. But putting that aside, if I wasn’t enrolled at Minerva, I could live anywhere, any time as the curriculum wouldn’t constrain me.
And I am sure that experience could be meaningful as well. But I would miss out on the most important element of the Minerva experience: my fellow students.
When you travel the world by yourself or with culturally familiar people, your reflection and learning are likely to be quite one-dimensional.
You see something and think: oh, that is better than I’m used to, or worse, or more efficient, more considerate, louder, gentler, more individualistic, spicier, or whatever might be the point of comparison. This will undoubtedly broaden your horizon, but it will mostly teach you about yourself as it will make you aware of what you find normal.
Now imagine making the same kind of observations, but add onto that the perspectives of 180 fellow students out of 65 countries, of whom most are highly culturally unfamiliar to you.
A few weeks ago, I met with a friend outside in front of a restaurant. When I arrived, I kissed him on his cheek as a greeting - something very normal in many parts of the world. And very weird in many others. India falls in the latter category, so half the street turned their heads at us. If you have ever been to India: half of the people on the street here means a LOT of people 😉.
Now my friend is Indian himself, so I suddenly realized that my greeting style might be very weird to him.
Unlocked: a fascinating conversation about how people view affection in India and how travel changed his view. We talked about what makes you feel loved and the pros and cons of only showing love through touch behind closed doors.
A kiss on the cheek might be a simple example, but imagine themes like how you resolve conflict or what you even understand as conflict. Or when you deem it appropriate to express your opinion, how you treat a guest, or how you process your emotions.
If you factor in how you might learn from the reflections of others towards each other, you are talking about 180 factorial dimensions. Google the math for fun 😉
Now, although I can highly recommend Minerva, you don’t need the institution for growing cultural competency. The rule of thumb is:
If you want to learn about yourself: travel alone.
If you want to learn about the world: travel with others.
You don’t even have to go far: the key is to increase the odds that you’ll encounter different perspectives. So surround yourself with people different from you, and be curious.
And now read that again, but instead like this:
If you want to learn about yourself, learn alone.
If you want to learn about the world, learn with others.
Because it’s all the same 😉