CultureEducation

“I honestly believe if people traveled more often, there would be less conflict because there would be more understanding.” I said this in my Youth Spotlight last week, and I meant it with all my heart. Traveling is a powerful educational tool for everyone and, I believe, is especially eye opening for minority youth like myself. Let me tell you why.

With cultural tensions spewed across the news and social media platforms as of late, people seem quick to grab onto fear before attempting to peacefully resolve a misunderstanding. We are all guilty of being fearful sometimes, but let’s remember, fear is only a result of unfamiliarity. For example, you may be terrified of insects until you watch the Discovery Channel and learn the many ways they help protect us from even scarier things like low crop yields and a massive buildup of animal waste (no, thank you!). Suddenly, you’ll think twice before stepping on the little creatures that are more helpful than we think, and this is all thanks to a bit of new knowledge.

The same concept goes for people. In my personal experiences as a young minority woman traveling, I have often found myself in places where no one looks like me. For some of you, whether Black, Asian, Hispanic, a lovely mix and so on, this might sound familiar. It can be awkward at times, but always eye-opening and beneficial for all parties involved. Travel is absolutely transformative for minority youth in three major ways.

First, it allows those unfamiliar with your culture to become more familiar. When I traveled to New Zealand a few years ago, I never saw another black person during the trip, aside from the few traveling with me in the tour group. This doesn’t mean black people don’t exist in New Zealand; I just never crossed paths with any. During my home stay with a Kiwi family (the native minority population in the country), they told me they’d never had any black friends before and I said I’d never had any Kiwi friends before. At first they were timid to ask pressing questions about my culture, but eventually conversation began flowing as I told them about ridiculous stereotypes that exist in America, the daily struggles faced, and about my personal family history. They reciprocated by telling me about theirs. As native New Zealanders, many of their experiences were similar to mine, as a black American. Who would have known? By the end of the conversation, we could all say we were friends. Pretty good ones, at that. Just think about it – if discussions like this would happen more frequently, there would be much more respect than conflict.

Not only does traveling teach others about you, but it can also teach you about your own culture. Every time you go to a new location, you unlock a part of yourself you didn’t know existed. For example, when I went to Paris for the first time in high school, I learned about how many black Americans in the 1920’s hopped the Atlantic and settled in the City of Lights. Many did this because they felt race was not as much of a hindrance to living a happy life in Paris as it was in America. There were more job opportunities, a booming arts industry, and less violent racism. I found it so interesting to learn about how people like me lived in other countries in the past, and are still living there today. Traveling to Paris expanded my mindset and, in a sense, gave me a newfound sense of my own identity within the world and its history.

Last but surely not least, travel has the power to make the variety of race seem minuscule compared to the unity of humanness. What I mean by this is that through exploring new areas, speaking to new people, immersing yourself in a different society, and catching a glimpse into how others live, similarities across cultures are more evident than any differences could ever be. We all struggle to find ourselves. We all get lazy, grumpy, giggly, frustrated, happy, and jealous at times. We all laugh at our own jokes, have secret crushes on people who don’t know who we are, and have blood flowing through our veins. You get the point. But mostly, we all want to just be happy.

So, whether you are thinking about traveling to another country, a new town, or a new school, I want to encourage you to go for it… for yourself, and for all of us.

Image: Jay Mantri

TravelVolunteerism

“Where am I?” is all that crossed my mind when I was volunteering in South Africa the summer before my freshman year of college. In honor of my high school graduation, my family and I decided to break out of our comfort zone and stray from our usual lounging vacations and plan one that exposed us to a different world. With an organization I would recommend to everyone – Global Vision International (GVI) –  I lived in a town outside of Cape Town called Gordon’s Bay to teach basic English and Math to children at a devastatingly poor, but dedicated school called A.C.J. Phakade Primary. It wasn’t until this remarkable experience that I realized how moving and important giving back, especially in a country as dynamic as South Africa, truly is.

Here are three main reasons you should highly consider “The Rainbow Nation” for your next volunteering venture.

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The children need your help.

Many primary schools around Cape Town require its students to take an entrance exam into high school. While this may seem easy enough, trouble arises for native Xhosa-speaking – one of the country’s 11 official languages, spoken primarily by the black population surrounding Cape Town – students when they have to take the English-only exam. English is not part of school curriculums, so the only way a student knows English is if their parents taught them or they picked it up from American movies. For many of the eager students, an English volunteer is the only chance they have to learn the language well enough to get into high school. If they don’t pass, sadly they are stuck in primary school until they get it right.

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Put your own problems into perspective.

In college, getting a D on a midterm, getting into arguments with friends, and not living in your preferred dorm might seem like the end of the world, but once you explore a slum you begin to see life differently. Surrounding Cape Town are “townships,” poor, rag-tag neighborhoods mainly inhabited by black South Africans who were kicked out of the city during Apartheid. After seeing children come to school wearing no shoes and a school with a rat problem and gaping holes in its walls, you’re bound to realize how fortunate you are.

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Meet people from all over the world.

With GVI, I had the opportunity to meet likeminded young people from all over Europe, Africa, and Australia. It turns out that South Africa is a hot destination for the millennial generation because of its stunning landscapes and Cape Town’s stylish appeal. Even about four years later, I keep in touch with the friends I made and now always have a couch to sleep on in case I visit any of their home countries!

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I urge you to consider all of these points if you are seriously thinking about doing a volunteer trip. Remember, as responsible citizens of the world and Carpe Juvenis enthusiasts, it is up to us to make a better tomorrow!

Image: Photos courtesy of Aysia Woods