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Top 5 Ways to Have a Genuine Cultural Exchange

It’s a common misconception that just getting on the plane and touching down somewhere new is all you need to do to have a genuine travel experience. Indeed, getting out of your routine and getting out into the world is a huge step to discovering new people, places, and things — but that’s just the first step. Travel is more than taking great photos and having out with other travellers in hostels and hotels. Travel is about opening your eyes and heart to a new culture and making a genuine connection with a new place and its people.

Here are 5 ways that you can stop being a tourist and start being a true global citizen by experiencing a genuine cultural exchange:

1. Leave the Group Behind

Vacations can be a great bonding experience for couples, friends, and family, but if you only hang out with a group of people you know from home, or even a group of new friends who are all foreigners, it will
be much harder for you to really see, hear, and feel your surroundings. When you break away from the group and leave the tourist area of the place you’re visiting, you are not only making yourself more aware of your surroundings, you are also much more approachable locals who are as curious about you culture as you are about theirs.

2. Be a Good Listener

This is an important key for any interaction in life. Too often in conversations we are just waiting for our own turn to talk, or comprehending someone’s story only as it relates to ourselves. To have a genuine cultural exchange, it is crucial to really hear the person you are communicating with, and make no assumptions. Don’t interrupt, but make sure to ask questions to this person who is kind enough to share their time with you. Show interest in their perspective and take nothing for granted.

3. Have an Open Mind and Heart

No matter where you go, remember that you are a guest. You are not entitled to anything, and you owe a good deal of respect to all those you encounter. It is easy to think that we know a lot about a country, by guidebooks or by reputation, but in reality this doesn’t scratch the surface of the complicated, beautiful mess of a complex culture and the daily lives of the locals. Even if you disagree with someone’s opinion, remember that you don’t know their perspective, just as they don’t truly understand yours. Always stay open and respectful. Instead of being defensive, be grateful for someone sharing their stance with you. Have compassion and try to truly understand what you are being shown.

4. Curiosity & Care

You’ll never get anywhere without asking questions. Showing genuine interest in the world around you will open up doors to unbelievable experiences. The more you have genuine curiosity and compassion for those you meet, the more you will be invited — to talk, to have tea, to go to a party, or even a wedding (I speak from experience!). Being kind, being curious, and saying yes are the only tactics you need to have the journey of a lifetime.

5. You Get What You Give

If you are open, compassionate, curious, respectful, and approachable, the world will open up to you in ways that you cannot imagine. The more you share of yourself, the more people will share with you. Smiles beget smiles, laughs beget laughs. Approach the world as a grand opportunity. You are not entitled to a life changing experience when you travel — you must work hard to create it.