Value of Traveling to Other Cultures
When I bring women to Italy for my Italy Retreat for Women, it is more than just an enjoyable trip to Italy. It is transformational and heart-opening. For many reasons, but one is to appreciate a different culture and to find our commonness. It is like crawling out of our cocoon and becoming a butterfly.
The Dalai Lama once wrote in the forward of a book, about “cutting through differences to find commonness”. Isn’t that the call to action for each human being on earth–to discover that our different cultural beliefs do not have to divide us? This is a far deeper conversation than I am covering in this humble blogpost, but I do know that travel is a mode of connecting us to the possible195 countries around the world. Instead of saying, ‘In the US, we would never do that’, open up to the possibilities of learning and expanding our thinking.
As Miriam Beard stated, “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” The cultures or cultural beliefs we have, often come front and center, coloring our interactions when we travel. For instance, Americans traveling in Italy, stand out in the crowd because they may be chomping on a piece of pizza, while racing along the sidewalk. Two things stand out: One is that Italians do not eat while walking. They sit or occasionallly stand at a bar for their espresso and brioche in the morning on the way to work. Secondly, even in Rome with a population of 3 million people, they do not rush. I noticed myself speed-walking past the locals as they just strolled along the sidewalk in the middle of the day.
Eating is a sit down experience to be savored amidst conversation with friends and family. We have the opportunity to expand our limited thinking when we travel, if we stay open to the changes and differences. In other words, we do not resist and complain. Not always easy! Stay aware of the flow, the conversations, the laws of nature in Italy, and enjoy them. I slowed down, and ambled to the colliseum. After all, I was in Italy to enjoy the sweet life.
Public transportation like buses and trains, are the lifeblood of Italy. Of course, Amtrak exists in the US, and larger cities have subways and some trains connecting, but for the most part, Americans are car drivers. I’ve been on the trains in Italy with grandmas hopping on board from Arezzo to visit their grandchildren in Pisa, a two to three hour train ride. I’ve met business people, students, soccer players, artists and families, all enjoying the train rides to work and adventures. It’s also not uncommon to bring food onboard the train and sometimes share with strangers.
Food can be a culturally unifying theme. I’ve been on the train in Italy, when the lights went out for a few moments, and everyone burst out singing some song. I have no idea why, but they were just enjoying the moment. I have found that the best way to understand a culture is to eat their food. How do they grow it, prepare it, then partake of it?
Transportation varies in countries. Italians and those in other countries also walk and ride bikes around their towns–from grandparents to young children. Here in the US in most cities, the cars will run you over if you’re on your bicycle, perhaps giving you dirty looks, as they whizz by. But the slow moving locomotion of walking and biking, creates a shift in energy. We see more, smell the fresh air, get healthier, save fuel, and live more simply. Italy still uses the autostrada super highways, but with each town, there is ample opportunity and encouragement to travel in a more simple mode.
So we are afforded the chance and even the risk of changing our ways while we travel, from the way we walk, bicycle, eat, observe and adventure. Travel can be painful and scary or transformational and enriching. Would you want to experience ‘a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living’?
Travel, eat, open to the differences and our commonness.
-Photo of Lucca canal by Celia Milla, 2014 Italy Retreat participant.
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