ShearerSitting on the beach at Martha's Vineyard in the summer of 2013, eavesdropping on a group of rising high school seniors from the Boston area, I noticed a common theme in all their stories. Each of these students had spent a month or more in a vastly different culture every summer since they could remember. This got me thinking about my own experiences in world travel and how significant I would consider each of them.

When I was 13 I traveled to Europe for the first time, and I spent a month touring eight of the western countries. I remember thinking that I had never seen anything so beautiful, and by the end of the trip I had fallen in love with every part of those places.

But aside from being mesmerized by my experiences I had developed incomparable appreciation and tolerance for other cultures, a feeling that I never would have known without encountering it for myself.

This leads me to reveal my ultimate motivation for writing this: I cannot stress enough the importance of introducing young people to cultures apart from their own. The values that they will learn from interacting with — simply even watching — people from other cultures will carry them farther than any other learned lessons I can possibly think of.

Many people, ranging from world leaders to the most influential writers, have travelled to various countries, meeting and understanding the native people. The opportunity to compare one’s own values to those of another does not arise more readily than when making the effort to understand a different culture.

Naturally, separate cultures have different qualities simply because their locations provide varying resources. In a place that receives 360 days of rain per year, those five dry days may be a blessing. But for a place that gets less than an inch per year, rainfall provokes a spiritual ceremony to celebrate the gifting of such a scarce resource. Such a simple difference in weather manifests itself as a defining aspect of each culture, and true appreciation of either point of view can only come from firsthand experience.

Cultural immersion can be rewarding in so many other ways, too. Learning a second, or even a third language can be a challenging process in suburbia, even with the superior world language programs that many schools have to offer. Visiting a country where a foreign language is spoken with great frequency can be a wonderful tool to improve ones language skills. It also makes learning the language more personal and relatable because one has then seen it in action outside of a classroom, and can put faces and emotion to the words being spoken.

Setting foot in the heart of another culture can also be very humbling, because it shows how subjective and one-sided one's own culture can be, allowing a greater respect to develop for the customs and behaviors of other people.

From my own experiences I learned to look at other people from a curious standpoint as opposed to a judgmental one, and in doing so I have opened up so many opportunities to befriend new people and to learn about all the different people who inhabit the world. Travel is such a defining factor in the growth of a young mind, and I urge everyone to experience it for themselves.

Laura Shearer is a senior at Wilsonville High School. She is contributing a regular column to the Spokesman this school year.

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