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7 Ways to Trot the Globe without Actually Globetrotting

Emma ... Not in East India... but East Memphis.

Traveling abroad offers opportunities to expand our understanding of different cultures, people and subsequently different perspectives. To me, a useful education has less to do with the levels of academia that have been traversed and more to do with successfully processing the existence of ideas outside of the paradigm of one's own thinking.

All that said, it's entirely possible to live a multicultural life without ever getting a passport.

The Internet, coupled with the rise of immigrant and first generation communities and populations throughout the world, presents most people an opportunity to sample the cuisine, clothing, food and some aspects of specific cultures without ever really leaving their homes.

1. Food. My fellow Americans, there are nations whose food is served within our borders that are not Mexico, China, Thailand or Italy.  Next time you go out to eat, don't let the "mood for Mexican" stand in the way of your expanding horizons.  Cuban, Argentine, Ethiopian...  The worst that could happen is that you don't like Ethiopian food which I think is better than not knowing what Ethiopians eat. Or thinking that they don't eat at all.  WHICH.IS.SO.ANNOYING.  It was a freaking region, not the entire country, the famine lasted two years, and it happened twenty five years ago, people.  Let it go.

2. Festivals. Ethnic communities put on a lot of "festivals." It's a way, I think, for us to feel connected to one another, but also an attempt to reach out to other communities and teach them something about us.  Just go. Bonus: there will be cheap, delicious food there. Food is a totally educational thing.  Just ask Anthony Bourdain.

3. Forging friendships. You're looking around for a someone to start a conversation with? Pick someone who looks like they're from somewhere other than where you're from. Is that politically incorrect?  Probably. I just think it makes for more interesting conversation and, you know, it could initiate world peace if people did it more often. Just.  Um.  Be cool, okay?

4. Books. Most public libraries have collections of international authors.  Book clubs are excellent sources. Not going to lie, Oprah's Book Club is my go to -- it offers a diverse range of authors in terms of national origin and race. You can search key words like "author" and "<a nation you'd like to visit">, too. A book isn't a substitute, but it is, again, better than knowing nothing.

5. Fashion. I'm not talking tunics from Target.  Nations like India, Japan, Malaysia, Kenya and yes, even Pakistan have thriving industries devoted to the haute couture that are directed at their own nationalities.  Scanning the international versions of Vogue that are available online offer insight into a culture's values concerning beauty, fabrics, industry and, of course, the feminine ideal.

6. Film.  Netflix is rocking it with the foreign films. Bollywood selections alone will take you on a veritable tour of the entire subcontinent.  Be warned, though, if you do ever go to India, few women look like Aishwarya Rai and pretty much nobody is dancing (well) in the streets.  If you're on a budget or don't have Netflix, did you know libraries lend movies!? For free?!  True story.

7. Avoid caricatures and remember that a micro-experience isn't a substitute for the real thing. Disclaimer: Keep in mind that experiencing a culture outside of its national origin is experiencing a representation of that culture. As Americans, what's our national food?  Our national dress?  Our national culture? My response to that is, it depends and yours may be more specific.  While we may have an unusually high diversity factor in the U.S., it's a mistake to assume that other nations are homogeneous in their ideals and culture.

These things aren't specific substitutes for travel, but often we set aside our dreams because there isn't time or money to do and see all the things what we want to.  Truth is, though, you can do a little bit now while working towards making what you really to want happen, too.

Have you traveled the world recently without really leaving home?  How?
P.S. Oh. Yeah. Happy Birthday, Adam.

Reader Comments (25)

yes! sounds like my life. :)

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteramigacara

Great advice! Even though I am fortunate enough to get to globetrot, I still enjoy globetrotting while staying at home. Embracing foreign culture... even representations of foreign culture... is one step closer towards thinking globally, which is one step closer to all of us getting along a little better on this planet.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave2

I love learning about other cultures. Movies are an invaluable resource for this (I'm talking about actual foreign films, not American approximations). I realize they don't tell the whole story, but you can get a good feel for things.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

I've been at the ER with Gilda and then at Children's Hospital when she got a cast on her ankle. It sure FELT like another world... :)

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSybil Law

I love that you give people permission to do this. I think people who are likely to WANT to do these things may feel intimidated or afraid to do them for fear of some kind of politically incorrect "ethnic tourism" or something.

My family has done all of these things and, while not world travelers (yet), my kids have a much broader perspective than I did at their ages.

Actually, scratch that. I don't think I've really explored books by foreign authors. Should get on that.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Britt

i am so fortunate that pittsburgh offers a bunch of ethnic festivals. and really thankful we have a pretty decent greek population because oh my dog, do i love the cheap church food!

it bothers me a bit that i have never been to the conflict kitchen ( they are takeout only, just a little walk up window, but they only serve food from countries that the u.s. is in conflict with. every six months they change the country they choose to highlight. really inexpensive, too. problem is they are on the other side of town so it would probably take me a whole 20 minutes to get there. bad, bad becky. wanna spank me?

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterhello haha narf

very good advice! loved this post. i do some of these things with my kids but we could definitely do more. i liked the ideas you have. :)

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLiza

Don't you mean "homogeneous", because you shouldn't assume that a culture is going to be all the same, even if it's not as diverse as America?

I like to read books to escape, so it's unlikely that I'd read anything serious or heavy by any authors, domestic or foreign. Bollywood films are fun but I want my movies to be an escape and reading subtitles gets old quick.

It's not that I'm against experiencing foreign cultures, but I'd rather go immerse myself somewhere if I'm going to put the effort into learning about another culture. Going to the Greek Oktoberfest and having a flaming block of cheese really doesn't cut it.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAvitable

Oh my God, Ethiopian. Go. Try. You must!

But yes, I console my wayward soul that has never traveled farther than the UK and the Caribbean but wanted to go everywhere at one time or another, with the fact that the glory of America is that you can do this. Screw those rednecks who don't like all this multiculturalal obviousness.

The best part of America are the people who aren't from here.


Hmmm. sounds like an alternative election year slogan.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRW

Great advice...There is not much diversity in my town, but you've inspired me to try and find it!

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThe World of Deej

I wish we had more multicultural festivals here. Right now there's only the Italian Festival. We have a large Basque population, and have some really great Basque food as a consequence. I've always wanted to try Ethiopian food, but haven't had the opportunity.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

I love Oprah's book club choices, too---much to the chagrin of many. Oh well. And food? I am SO THERE. I love trying new things. THis post is exceptional, my dear. And the photo? Gorgeous.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered Commentererin margolin


January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

Agreed. I love EPCOT. :-)

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

Films are absolutely a great way to experience ideals and issues of a society.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

Heh. ERs are another planet, it's true.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

I'm just giving you a heads up - world literature is full of unhappy endings with loose ends all over the place. SO DON'T YOU YELL AT ME when you're done reading.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

You told me about that once before! We need to go there when I come to Pittsburgh -- which I will do very soon!

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

Thanks, the good thing is that most of these ideas are inexpensive, too.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

I did mean homogeneous.
Not everyone can go "immerse themselves" in a culture, whether it's because they have family obligations or financial considerations. Of course, if you have the time and resources, you should certainly go for the real thing. But for people who don't, Greek Oktoberfest is better than nothing.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

I think you're onto something with the slogan. I *LOVE* Ethiopian food. We found one here in Memphis that we're probably going to try this weekend!

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

Good luck!

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

If you come to BlogHer next year, maybe we can try to find a place to eat? Or come to Memphis, we have one here!

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

Man, haters gonna hate on Oprah, but I adore that lady. Thanks about the photo; Britt's daughter is a good sport just like her mom.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

[...] How to be of the world instead of just in the world [...]

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFriday Links

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