Well, the countdown is on. I am leaving for Africa so soon, and I am doing my best to get mentally prepared for this trip! In doing so, I took out some of my old journals yesterday and found the one from my trip to Africa in April, 2013.
During that trip, I made a practice of taking some quiet time to reflect on my experiences at the end of most days. Rereading these reflections has given me a lot of great insight and some ideas to keep at the forefront of my mind as I head to Rwanda. And because I have found many of them to be so valuable, I have decided to share five of the ideas with you to help you make the most of your next cross-cultural excursion!
1. Be open-minded and seize every moment.
Remember that cross-cultural travel is going to stretch you a lot. You will be outside of your comfort zone, and even your mindsets and worldview will be challenged. Don’t let this cause you to retreat or close up. Instead, be open to both the differences and similarities that you see in the culture, and seize each moment to learn something knew. If you are too busy doing your own thing and remaining stuck in your own mindset, you may miss some beautiful opportunities to learn and relate.
2. Choose love rather than fear.
Travelling cross-culturally can be scary. There are so many unknowns, from how to navigate language and cultural barriers, to what to do if you contract some kind of unfamiliar illness. But the reality is that fear will diminish your experience. If you go through your entire trip with fear hanging around your shoulders, you will be too distracted to truly enjoy the ride. Instead, choose love. Choose to love everything about your trip, from the people you encounter to the landscapes that you see! Sometimes I think that we only have room for so many emotions at once, and sometimes it comes down to making a choice about which one you are going to let in.
3. Be grateful, despite unmet expectations.
You may have had expectations going into your trip, and those expectations may not be met at all when you actually find yourself at your destination. The important thing to remember, regardless of what happens, is that your trip is an amazing opportunity that is totally unique to you. You are the only one in your own mind and the only one who will experience this trip through your eyes. Isn’t that cool? Despite unmet expectations, choose to be grateful for the opportunity so that you can make the most of it!
4. Uphold the dignity of all people.
Remember that even though this trip may be a step outside of the norm for you, you have travelled into someone else’s “normal”. You will be walking around on the streets in front of their homes, their workplaces, their hangouts. When you find yourself in a culture that is shockingly different than your own, such as travelling to a developing nation from the first world, sometimes you can forget that all people are still people. These people may live a very different life than you, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have any dignity. Please carefully consider how your interactions with local people will not only be kind and respectful, but also how you will uphold their dignity. Sometimes this might mean resisting taking a picture or a video of something that is intriguing or shocking to you. Ask yourself: Does posting this photo on social media uphold the dignity of the local people (or the person in it, if you have taken a specific person’s photo)?
5. Just be yourself.
It can be tempting to try to completely recreate yourself when you’re on the other side of the world, because the people you meet won’t know any different. In a sense, you can start over and become anyone you want! But the energy it takes to put on a façade always saps your ability to be in the moment. You’ll miss out on the true beauty of your experience if you are too busy trying to act a certain way. Just be yourself. The people you meet and interact with along the way don’t want to hang out with a counterfeit anyway. They just want you to be you.
Now remember, I’m not an expert. I’m just a person who loves travelling and wants to make the most of my experiences. So, what would you add? How would you make the most of your cross-cultural trip?