Traveling is essential to cultural awareness


Experiencing new cultures by traveling to other countries can break down personal biases and improve physical and mental health.

BASHEERA AGYMAN, Evergreen columnist

My trip to the Dominican Republic last spring was a refreshing experience. Choosing to stay at a local hotel instead of an Americanized resort was one of the best traveling decisions I have ever made. It allowed me to interact with the locals and immerse myself in the day-to-day Dominican culture.

Of course, studying abroad is not an option for every student. Many students, myself included, are unable to manage the significant costs associated with traveling through a study abroad program.

An alternative to this is to plan your own trip abroad and make the conscious decision to immerse yourself in the culture of wherever you decide to go.

There are at least 194 countries besides the U.S. and each one is worth exploring and experiencing.

Whether one chooses to go abroad through the various programs offered at WSU or through the personal planning of a trip, studying abroad is an experience that college students should strive to have some time during their education.

Rory Ong is the former professor of the CES Traveling Cultures class that acts as a critique of travel in the context of social location.

“As Americans, we carry a lot of cultural baggage,” Ong said. “Be aware of your own location as Americans. We often forget the American or European colonial connections to the places we love to visit and their colonial legacies.”

Although the traveling cultures class acts as a critique of travel, Ong encourages students to travel but emphasizes the importance of traveling with critical cultural awareness.

That being said, below are five reasons why every college student should take a trip abroad:

1. Cultural competency: Traveling outside your comfort zone and geographical location enhances your knowledge about distinct cultures. This is important when relating to others socially, especially in a place like “melting pot” America.

2. Exposure can eradicate implicit biases: Often times the lack of exposure to a certain thing is what fosters a fear of it. The fear of visiting places that seem extremely different from your own place of origin can foster xenophobic and ethnocentric sentiments.

3. Understanding history helps you understand the way your world works: Do visit the amusement parks and the beaches, but challenge yourself to confront the histories of the world. This is one way to become more understanding of the world’s dynamics – for example, the reasons why certain countries came to be first, second or third in the world.

4. A change in scenery is beneficial to your health: It is scientifically proven that weeks after a vacation, travelers continue to feel less stressed and less anxious than they were before their vacations. The change of scenery promotes mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

5. Personal growth and abandoning your comfort zone: While traveling is beneficial to health, there are often many concerns associated with it. Being presented with language barriers, for example, is one instance where you could challenge yourself to think outside of your own social locations.

Enhancing an educational career through travel is one of the easiest ways to broaden your awareness of the world.

Basheera Agyeman is a junior comparative ethnic studies major from Accra, Ghana. She can be contacted at 335-2290 or by [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the staff of The Daily Evergreen or those of The Office of Student Media.