Cramped on a blanket in the park on a Sunday afternoon, we sat discussing French while eating croissants and gourmet cheese. It’d been a gloomy day, and I really didn’t feel like driving all the way downtown for this French honor society rendez-vous. But I’m so glad I did.
Even though our little group spans in ages, backgrounds and friendship circles, there’s something about coming together with a group of unfamiliar faces and discussing something you love. I shared my castle story (you know, the one time I spent a long weekend in a French castle), and no one’s jaw dropped. Because it’s French Club, and let’s be real: most of us have been in castles before. We talked about the different French cities we lived in, the types of French cheese we were tasting and our favorite French professors.
For others, this exact conversation would be a snooze fest or a chance to tell me that I’m so posh. But in this group, it’s just normal. “Oh, that one time in France” is no longer considered snobby.
And although yes, I can be posh at times — there’s nothing wrong with frequenting Starbucks and preferring Target to Walmart — I’ve noticed this scenario is nothing new or even unique.
It’s as if travel divides the human race into the haves and have nots. For those who don’t travel much, there’s an aura of inferiority: Oh, you haven’t been to Italy? You haven’t studied abroad? You’ve never left Missouri? But for those of us well-traveled folk, there sure can be an element of snobbery, but oftentimes, it’s wanting to share our life experiences with others, the ones that have shaped who we are and fuel our desires.
It frustrates me that traveling and experiencing other cultures is a thing for the elite because it truly shouldn’t be. Yes, travel can be expensive, but experiencing other cultures doesn’t have to be.
Exploring the world chisels away at our narrow-mindedness and ignorance. Your home doesn’t look like everyone else’s home. Not everyone talks like you do, nor does everyone dress like you. And that’s something to celebrate, not to slight or belittle. Never leaving your 20-mile radius makes it hard to fight these misconceptions and unrealities.
In fact, there are many ways to travel whether it’s short road trips to the town over or volunteer opportunities abroad. It doesn’t have to be a trip to a luxury resort; it can be a service trip. If skipping town is out of the question, there’s a great likelihood that not everyone in your neighborhood shares your background.
Last year, I lived with a friend who immigrated to America from Brazil several years prior, and I enjoyed asking questions about her home culture. I tried a Brazilian pastry called Pão de Queijo on a trip to New York and was able to rave about this cheesy bread with her. I have neighbors from the Middle East, and I learned how to say hello in Urdu. I have a Lebanese friend, and we like to speak French together. (She was a great resource during the Middle Eastern geography class we took together!)
Traveling and simply tasting other cultures needn’t be something for the elite; it should be a given to learn about our neighbors whether they live next door or across the globe.
One of my biggest pet peeves is that foreign language isn’t pushed in America. Living in France for a summer, I was often asked what languages I speak: “Uhh, I speak English, and I’m working on French.”
I know few people who are multilingual, and saying I’m a French major often elicits a “wow” or “ooh la la.” And it really shouldn’t. Why should bilingualism be something extraordinary? Living in the Midwest doesn’t give me too many opportunities to practice my French with native speakers, but these opportunities are definitely there. Even more, foreign language grows a person in humility, reminding her that she must always learn and doesn’t always have the answers.
Travel needn’t be posh. In our globalized society, it is even more imperative that we seek understanding of those who hail from different continents, countries and corners of our own country. Let’s make travel less about our number of stamps in our passport but the places, people, moments and cultures we’ve experienced instead.