Why is studying abroad and experiencing a new culture important both to the person going on the trip and to the local community he/she visits?
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Like the Ptolemaic view of the heavens, we all suffer from the geocentric error—the world does not revolve us or even around our city, country, or history. Until we view some of the other “planets” (in this analogy, other cultures), we are unable to construct a workable model that fits all the evidence. When a person, especially a student, travels to other culturally different environments, the possibilities of changes, alternative priorities, out-of-our-box solutions, even the rewording of the problems we thought were built into our cultures, all come under scrutiny. While tourism is an industry, travel gives us the opportunity to see things in a different light (literally, in the case of landscapes and cathedrals); it is the traveler’s choice to either bring his/her own tight worldview along, or to look with non-tourist eyes at the life of this new community. The success of a trip might be measured by how much exchange of viewpoint goes on between visitor and the visited community. We also realize by traveling that other countries have had a different history from our own; in the histories we have shared, other cultures played a different role—slavery looks different from Liberia; the American Revolution looked different from England, a global economy look different from India. But most importantly, the view of the future looks different in other cultures. A tourist on a bus in Paris noticed a stack of cobblestones by an open road construction site and lamented aloud the loss of this 19th century feature; a native leaned over and said, “No, Monsieur—the workers are putting them back.”
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