Want to learn about other cultures? Try this!

Kolkata, India
The best way to understand a culture is to go and live within it.

Many of us are curious about how people live in other parts of the world, and as someone who has travelled a lot, I have gained plenty of perspective by living within different cultures.

Travelling to a new country and living in the culture is the best way to learn how others live. However, most importantly is how much you immerse yourself into the culture, as it is easy to visit a place without being a part of it. Living with or befriending locals is the best way to learn about a culture.

I’ve travelled to many countries and have tried to embrace the culture as much as possible. This was easiest to do when I stayed with locals or became friends with them and did things with them rather than other foreigners. If you are curious about different cultures, keep reading as I will share what I have learnt through my travels.

Living with the locals is the best way to understand a culture.

Years ago, a friend left the country and decided to stay with his grandmother in Italy for a while. He invited me to visit their house, so I graciously accepted the offer and bought a ticket. After arriving, he met me at a train station, and we slowly made the trek back to his grandmother’s house.

It was almost dark by the time we arrived, but I noticed that the house was in a village, reasonably far away from a city. For the next week, we stayed at home and did things in the area. We checked out cafes, piazza’s, and all sorts of things that I wouldn’t have known were interesting if a local hadn’t shown me. 

I love food, so seeing how his family ate meals was also insightful, mainly how lunch was the biggest meal of the day, pasta was an appetizer, and drinking lots of wine was standard.

We walked around the village, and people noticed us right away; they would ask my friend why he was there and where he came from. And while this would have been off putting for most people, my friend took it in strides.

For me, what was most interesting about all of this, was seeing how regular people live. If I travelled on my own, I would have stuck to the cities and likely focused on the famous landmarks. But with a local friend, I was able to find things off the beaten trail more easily.

Also, my ex’s family was from Jamaica, so we visited her father’s house a couple of times. And while I had been to Jamaica as a teenager, it was nothing like taking a drive up the mountain to visit the family farm. Up there, life was completely different from the resorts or the city where the father’s house was.

While travel is always a great way to see the world and how other people live, typical vacations are often limited to famous places, hotels and resorts.

But to see how people live, and understand the culture, you need to stay with the locals, as their life will be more normal than what you would find in a big city.

Befriend the locals and do stuff with them

As I’ve mentioned before, I spent a year in Korea teaching English, and while there, most of my friends were Korean. As a result, I did many things that my fellow foreigners missed out on or didn’t even know existed. And while at times, it was a little overwhelming, I enjoyed all that I experienced and learned a lot as a result.

One thing that stands out is the food culture; in particular, many people might know about Korea BBQ. When I went out for a meal with my boss or other foreigners, we tended to go to nicer places with thick pieces of meat. However, when some Korean friends brought me out to dinner, we went to less fancy, more crowded places.

The thing was that if they hadn’t brought me to those places, I wouldn’t have even known they existed.

Another way that I learnt about the culture was with a co-worker, he was the only guy in the office, and I suppose he was a little bit strange. One night, he brought me to something called a booking club, which was a place where men and women were introduced to each other. It was a bit sketchy, but when we left, some locals told him he wasn’t supposed to bring foreigners to that place because it was betraying the culture.

While my friends in Korea helped me experience things that wouldn’t have been possible without their help, they also exposed me to things that most visitors don’t even know exist. The truth is that to learn about another culture, you need to embrace it, and that is only possible by staying with a local or making friends with a local.

Homestays and family

We have some family friends, who have a couple of homestay students staying with them, and while that isn’t something I’d want to do, it is a unique experience for everyone involved. The students come from Korea and get to live with a local family; from that experience, they get a better sense of how Canadians live than they would otherwise.

Similarly, my wife’s family lives in Japan, so we visit them every couple of years. And while her parents are retired, we get to see how they live, and they bring us places that we wouldn’t know otherwise. For me, something that is always interesting is a trip to the grocery store, where I walk through the isles and see what is there.

The truth is, even the most simple things like taking a walk around a residential area or going grocery shopping can show you a lot about how the culture works.

But of course, you wouldn’t see these things if you were to stay at a hotel or only eat at restaurants, as those are pretty much the same all over the world.

The best way to learn about another culture is to embrace it and live with it as much as possible. For me, I’ve been lucky to have families to visit or a job in another country that allowed me to live within the culture.

Embrace and immerse yourself into things to learn more about them

I can say from my experience that travelling to different countries and embracing the culture has been a great way to learn about those cultures and how they work. It is beneficial if you can stay with family or stay awhile so that you have time to make friends with the locals.

Interestingly, this benefit of embracing something isn’t limited to cultures; anytime you want to understand something, you get the most out of it by getting up close and personal. I’ve always been curious about entrepreneurship, so I joined a meetup with like-minded people, and through that experience, I learnt a lot.

The only way you can learn something is by trying it out, so if you are curious about how something works, give it a try. If you want to know how a culture functions, take a trip to the country, stay a while or stay with someone who can show you how things are.

But remember, the only way to know something is to experience it, so go out and embrace all those things you are curious about.

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Robert Carr

Over the years, I've learnt to see things in a different light. This website is my place to share those insights and give my unique perspective on living a meaningful life.

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