Expand Your World (From Your Own Backyard)
Real Simple|December 2018
Expand Your World (From Your Own Backyard)

Travel feels great because it exposes you to new people and experiences. But you don’t need to wait until your next trip to experience a new-to-you culture. Here’s how to connect wherever you live.

Jessie Kissinger

THERE’S NO GETTING AROUND IT: We live in polarized times.

Bridging divides—whether cultural, political, or religious— is more important than ever. It’s nice when you can get away, to be swept up in a foreign place. But you don’t always have to travel to immerse yourself in another way of life. There’s an easy, inexpensive opportunity right in front of us.

When we engage across difference in our own hometowns, we cultivate stronger communities and a stronger democracy, says Rachel Peric, executive director of Welcoming America, a nonprofit that works with local governments and other organizations to create a more inclusive climate for all Americans, including new residents from other countries. “Connecting with other cultures is about creating a sense of belonging for everyone,” Peric says. “Especially at a time when our communities don’t look the same as they did 20 years ago.”

And no action is too small. “Citizen diplomacy has a much deeper impact than anything governments could produce because it’s experiential,” says Patricia Harrison, PhD, director of International Professional Exchange Programs at World Learning, a nonprofit that runs cultural exchanges and other educational programs.

Finding a profound—or at least an interesting—local cross cultural experience takes curiosity and a willingness to get lost, feel awkward, and occasionally be overwhelmed by how little you know. In other words, it helps you grow. Engaging with other cultures expands our creativity and makes us more empathetic. If you’re game, here are 10 places to start.

1 Think global, eat local

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December 2018