Why Bother?

7 Reasons to Study Cultures Around the World

What I share today is inspired by my dear, small town, untraveled Grandma Smith, who has been the only person bold and kind enough yet to just come out and say, “I don’t get it – what the point of your blog is.” Probably a lot of you have thought that too, and it’s OK! I talked with her about why I love to study different cultures and kinds of interactions with people around the world, but as she pointed out – she doesn’t meet a lot of people from around the world. “Plus,” here comes my favorite argument that made me laugh from the truthfulness of the statement, “if I want to see or know about China, I can just look on YouTube or TV. I’m not gonna go there.”

Touché, Grandma, touché.

And I totally get it! She’s not wrong! Heck, I can feel the same way about many places that I just don’t think I’ll ever see. Heaven knows my husband has no interest in a few of the places I’ve tried to convince him to go to.

So why do it – study different cultures? Here are a few of the reasons I have come up with.

1. Internet Interactions.

I’m going to take the first swing at the very argument I already allowed, which is that we may never travel to a place, but we don’t have to anymore. That doesn’t just mean that we don’t have to go there to learn about it. We also don’t have to physically be there to share ideas and information with people from another place. With the internet and social media growing the way it is, we don’t have to travel to interact with different people at all anymore! Our online presence requires just as much cultural knowledge as being a world traveler does today! Never before has it been so important to really be a world citizen and have some awareness of things not just within our own communities and countries.

2. Educated Conversation/Opinion.

This is a no-judgement zone, but when I say, “yeah, I lived in Russia for a bit,” there are two different types of responses. The first is something about how “rough” it must have been with the weather, language, or to deal with Russians. The second is a much more specific type of question with key words even as simple as “U.S. relationships, Kremlin, Russian grandmas, adoptions, VISA renewals, etc.” While the first examples are great questions – because let me tell you, it was FREEZING and Russians can be very different than Americans – the questions I really get excited about are those second ones that show that people have some knowledge of what was actually happening when I was there! I don’t feel the pressure of needing to be their most honest account of what Russia was like and try to paint the picture of a whole, complex country. Instead, we can talk about things as they are and just tell my stories.

This also goes hand-in-hand with the number one. The internet, especially FaceBook lately (for us “old folks”, I’ve been told the kids don’t use it these days), is crawling with debates about politics of both national and foreign affairs. When we pause to read the comments on some of these discussion strands, you can always find a few things:

a. the troll, who is just trying to mess with people and pick a fight by asking questions or making insinuating remarks to get people’s blood boiling, but not really adding solutions to the conversation;

b. the passionate word-soldier, who whole-heartedly defends a position and refuses to back down, even if a really good point or question against them is brought up;

c. the life-long student, who has studied the issue, knows the stats, has references they share, can describe the politics and some group of people’s general opinions on it, and yet is joining the conversation saying they want to understand more.

I mean, do I really need to ask which one we all admire and want to be? I have two friends come to mind who are exactly Type C, and I also have a few who are definitely Type B. I myself, probably float between the two, honestly. But when I don’t know where I stand on an issue, the Type C’s are the ones whose opinions I truly respect.

The more I focus on learning about people around the world lately, the more I feel myself leaning towards being a Type C. I have more diverse resources that I have learned to trust, and opinions just a search or text away, and I try to find reliable information before joining discussions. Hopefully the end result is that I am becoming better able to analyze how solutions will affect a wider spectrum of people.

3. Global Service/Charities.

Did you know that around the world, there are many humanitarian projects that lure in anyone with the wealth, resources, and good heart to help build homes, schools, and fundraise; but then they pocket any money handed out and make sure their residents look just as starved and destitute for the next batch of lovable suckers to come through trying to help?! Isn’t that disgusting?! I just learned that recently and was appalled.

So I started to pay more attention, and began looking for keywords to see which countries are actually making changes, enforcing laws, experiencing population growth and return of past refugees. It has absolutely caught my attention every time I have seen a headline with something from the above examples after reading about these humanitarian hustles. We should also consider churches, Red Cross-type organizations, and other places that give a report of their spendings to see where our money is most trusted when trying to help a cause.

4. Family History.

I love how popular the new DNA testing kits have become! People have used these kits to fill in the blanks about questions of ancestors, health, and even research for genetic diseases. Many people have shared stories online of how they found out that their ancestors were from an entirely different country than they had grown up believing.

My favorite story on the AncestryDNA website is about a man who thought he was German. He wore traditional German clothes in a German dance troupe and everything. After some research and a confirmation by the dna test, he discovered his roots were actually Scottish. The catchline on the front page for this story? “So I turned in my lederhosen for a kilt!” Say what? Now . you understand why I even read his story in the first place, right?

If that title doesn’t grab your attention, I don’t know what will! I thought it was hilarious, but also was so impressed at whatever drives him to really connect with his ancestors and involve himself in some way in the culture of his bloodline. For many people this is a huge way to understand themselves, feel a purpose, and even take measures to be more healthy as they understand the kind of people and blood they come from. And there’s no way you’re entire lineage is only from one place, which should encourage you to learn about multiple different places and the time periods in which your ancestors lived in different parts of the Earth.

5. More Holidays!

If you’re one of those people looking to celebrate things like half-birthdays, best friend days, and Chick-Fil-A dress-up days, then I have another suggestion for you. Study cultures, of course! I have discovered so many new holidays every month that I can’t keep up with them! Did you know that Judaism has a holiday to celebrate Queen Esther’s miraculous rescue of the Jews? Or that there is a great Saint Milarepa celebrated by Hindus? And most countries have some sort of war heroes and victories celebrated monthly as well! When you expand your horizons to all the corners of the Earth, every week of the year has a holiday to celebrate something/someone worthwhile and good!

6. Friends and Travel

The old American dream was to build your white picket fence and happily stay inside it with a yard full of kids, and occasional explorations out into the wilderness spaces of the Wild West. But the new American dream is to travel the entire world over and bring home as many new friends as possible. Do I really have to convince you that the new people you meet when you leave home will be 100 times more exotic, entertaining and memorable than any old road trip? Studying cultures definitely gives that boldness needed to interact with a total stranger. Again, if you know something important about the place, then of course you’re more likely to stand up and say, “Hey, are you from Russia? I’ve been reading about the sanctions there, and….” as opposed to saying, “So you’re a Russian? You must be loving this Arizona weather, right?”

7. Cultivating Our Own Culture

I talked about this in “What Is Culture?” As we are driven to learn more about different people, we’ll start to find out about amazing traditions, holidays, and ways of expressing ourselves that would never have otherwise been open to us. We can then start to cultivate and improve the culture around us, which I think is the absolute most important part of all of this. We can really make a difference as we better understand and become more understanding of others. That’s what studying cultures really offers – an opportunity to connect with people, find ourselves, and make a difference.

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