The Importance of Experiencing Culture Abroad

Don’t deny it: for many of us, studying abroad means that we get to go somewhere exotic every weekend. If you want to go to Amsterdam multiple times in one semester, you can. If you want to go to Oktoberfest in Munich, spend spring break in Ibiza or try to hit every pub in London, you can. 

However, if you are the sort of person who travels solely to party, you’re doing study abroad wrong. There’s no problem with having fun — I went out everywhere I went  — but it’s disrespectful to local people and cultures to treat travel in such a superficial way.  I was lucky to study abroad at Worrell House with a group of open-minded people, but I was always shocked when I talked to other people studying abroad who seemed to be proud of embodying every negative stereotype of Americans studying abroad (being disrespectful to local people, not caring about culture/history, etc.). The most important part of traveling while abroad is the educational experience.  I might vaguely remember a fun night in Budapest when I’m older, but I will definitely remember visiting the Tower of London or the Louvre.

One of the best things about traveling is that it makes learning enjoyable. Visiting historical sites is one of the most rewarding ways to learn. I visited Inverness, Scotland  — Scotland’s northernmost city — around last Thanksgiving. Inverness is surrounded by important places in Scottish history; I went to Urquhart Castle, to get to which involves a cruise on Loch Ness. The local guides filled me in on the history of the castle, pointing out various landmarks on the way there and telling stories of the Scottish people’s battles for independence. I felt engaged with history while walking around the ruins of the castle  and I left knowing more about Scotland and its people. I had similar experiences visiting historical sites across Europe; I always left having learned something important.

Museums can be far more interesting and inspiring than they seem.  There is something to be said for seeing the Rosetta Stone, or the Mona Lisa or the Ishtar Gate in person. In addition to housing well-known art and artifacts, museums serve to highlight diversity and to remind us of the importance of cultural preservation. The British Museum, for example, emphasizes LGBT+ history across its collections, using objects from around the world.  Museums themselves are often stunning buildings.  Places like the Louvre, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Rijksmuseum and the British Museum are architectural masterpieces. The Musée de Cluny in Paris is my favorite, as it incorporates a medieval palace and Roman baths. The Musée de Cluny’s collection is interesting, but it is the building itself that is stunning.

Finally, the easiest way to learn about history and culture while abroad is to get lost.  Go to that tiny local pub. Take the train to the other side of town and walk around.  Talk to people. Eat new things. Above all, however, be respectful of other cultures and people. Studying abroad is a privilege and an educational experience.

Don’t deny it: for many of us, studying abroad means that we get to go somewhere exotic every weekend. If you want to go to Amsterdam multiple times in one semester, you can. If you want to go to Oktoberfest in Munich, spend spring break in Ibiza or try to hit every pub in London, you can.  However, if you are the sort of person who travels solely to party, you’re doing study abroad wrong. There’s no problem with having fun — I went out everywhere I went  — but it’s disrespectful to local people and cultures to treat travel in such a superficial way.  I was lucky to study abroad at Worrell House with a group of open-minded people, but I was always shocked when I talked to other people studying abroad who seemed to be proud of embodying every negative stereotype of Americans studying abroad (being disrespectful to local people, not caring about culture/history, etc.). The most important part of traveling while abroad is the educational experience.  I might vaguely remember a fun night in Budapest when I’m older, but I will definitely remember visiting the Tower of London or the Louvre.

One of the best things about traveling is that it makes learning enjoyable. Visiting historical sites is one of the most rewarding ways to learn. I visited Inverness, Scotland  — Scotland’s northernmost city — around last Thanksgiving. Inverness is surrounded by important places in Scottish history; I went to Urquhart Castle, to get to which involves a cruise on Loch Ness. The local guides filled me in on the history of the castle, pointing out various landmarks on the way there and telling stories of the Scottish people’s battles for independence. I felt engaged with history while walking around the ruins of the castle  and I left knowing more about Scotland and its people. I had similar experiences visiting historical sites across Europe; I always left having learned something important.

Museums can be far more interesting and inspiring than they seem.  There is something to be said for seeing the Rosetta Stone, or the Mona Lisa or the Ishtar Gate in person. In addition to housing well-known art and artifacts, museums serve to highlight diversity and to remind us of the importance of cultural preservation. The British Museum, for example, emphasizes LGBT+ history across its collections, using objects from around the world.  Museums themselves are often stunning buildings.  Places like the Louvre, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Rijksmuseum and the British Museum are architectural masterpieces. The Musée de Cluny in Paris is my favorite, as it incorporates a medieval palace and Roman baths. The Musée de Cluny’s collection is interesting, but it is the building itself that is stunning.

Finally, the easiest way to learn about history and culture while abroad is to get lost.  Go to that tiny local pub. Take the train to the other side of town and walk around.  Talk to people. Eat new things. Above all, however, be respectful of other cultures and people. Studying abroad is a privilege and an educational experience.