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.