Shaping Cultural Experiences

Travel has been an integral part of my life since I was a young child. I grew up in a multicultural, bilingual home in the Netherlands with a Polish mother and a Dutch father. My mom jokingly referred to me as a “product of a European Union,” and though it was meant in jest, I find it to be an accurate description. Europe’s geographical composition and short distances allow for easy travel, and for most Europeans, travel is a way of life. Vivid memories of changing landscapes come to mind of the extensive road trips my Polish grandpa and I undertook to-and-from Holland. The smell of my grandma’s homemade chicken noodle soup and her warm smile always greeted us, and I felt elated to be at my “home away from home.” Polish was never a “second language,” it was ingrained in me.
ImageOur family has explored the Scottish Highlands and London landmarks. We’ve ventured through the City of Love (Paris) and stayed with friends in the French countryside. Italy and Spain welcomed us with their authentic cuisines, rich histories, and friendly atmospheres. Egypt’s ancient civilizations drew us inside the pyramids, and the unforgettable, unique experience of visiting a Mosque ceremony opened my eyes to the major role Islam plays in the country.When I was 11, my father announced his company requested that we move overseas. At first, the choice was between Japan and the U.S. Given my dad’s allergy to fish (and the prevalence of it in Asian cuisine), and our ability to already speak English, the decision was simple. We began preparations for our move to America for the summer of 2000. Middle school friends urged me to share my first impressions, though a few had their own ideas of what America would be like: a heavily-influenced sports culture, burgers & fries, rock ‘n roll, and the “land of opportunity.” In some ways, their assumptions were right, but there is so much more to it than that.

America is a “multicultural melting pot” of many immigrants aspiring to live the “American Dream” – the notion of attaining success through hard work and opportunity. American history emphasizes the plight of immigrants seeking better lives, and how receptive the country was to immigration. Americans pride themselves on their ancestry and identify strongly with their cultural backgrounds. But there’s something to be said about American “education” on immigration, which feels a bit lackluster at times. While a country of great opportunities, it can still strengthen and deepen its understanding of other cultures. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “”No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive.”

Every country has its own interesting cultural footprint. Travel encourages such open-mindedness. It allows us to experience new cultures – sometimes similar, or not at all familiar to our own. Through it, we observe traditions, experience history, taste new cuisines, take in art forms, and appreciate alternative perceptions of life. Our world population has reached over 7 billion people. There are theories that all of us are interconnected through “six degrees of separation.”

My enthusiasm for travel, a keen interest in news, and connectedness with diverse people have translated into a true passion for journalism. To me, journalism reflects balanced storytelling. It digs for truths, reveals emotions, and allows us to share perceptions. It creates a dialogue.

Through a series of interviews with expats in this blog, I’ll be looking at cultural assimilation through the adoption of new cultural experiences, and how these can shape identity. I hope to share life-changing stories and lessons learned from immersion in foreign cultures. I’ll strive to highlight what makes their culture unique, but also examine what similarities bind us all in the human experience. How do we define our goals and life’s ambitions? How do we overcome obstacles and embrace cultural differences? Intercultural conversations should educate us, and break down barriers through honest and humorous observations.

If you want to share your story, or know someone who might, please contact me.

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