In high school, I came across a Mark Twain quote that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. He said, “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it solely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” It was then that I realized that if I wanted to be knowledgeable on humanity and the many different cultures around the world, there was no way for me to fully understand them unless I was there to experience them first-hand. Therefore, I decided to spend my summer in a Neuroscience program in Salamanca, Spain, not only enriching my academics but also changing my outlook on what it means to be a global citizen.
As I was preparing for my departure, I didn’t know what to expect but was excited by what I could gain from this trip. I figured that my knowledge of the brain and Spanish culture would expand. However, I gained so much more than that. I didn’t realize that culture is much more than our preconceived ideas. While there, I began to cherish and enjoy the different aspects of the Spanish customs. Even small things like “siestas” and slowly paced meals. Culture is not just a difference in habits, language, and food, it makes up who we are and the things that we do. It is our values, our beliefs, and it influences our way of life and what we make of the world.
Not only did I get to see Spain, but we also traveled to many other European countries. While on a guided tour of Prague, Czech Republic, I was struck by their national anthem. The song is titled “Where is my home?” The Romans, French, Austrians, Germans have occupied the Czechs, and it wasn’t until the Velvet Revolution in 1993 that they finally gained their independence. Even though the fate of their nation was in the hands of others, they never fled or abandoned their home. That’s because home is not a location. There’s no physical entity that defines a home. Home is merely a sense of belonging. George Moore once said, “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs, and returns home to find it.”
When I returned home, I was filled with new ideas and a whole new perspective on what I believed my culture was. The things I experienced when I studied abroad challenged me to reconsider and take a closer look at my own beliefs and values. In most cases, it will strengthen those values. Sometimes it even causes students to let go of them and embrace new concepts and perceptions. The encounter with a different and foreign way of life allows you to see your own culture through a new set of eyes.