What does it mean to go on a cultural exploration trip? Each trip is as different as the country in which it takes place. However, in general, cultural exploration tends to combine the best parts of adventure travel, sightseeing, and immersion. With the growing popularity of 'slow' travel, where people spend weeks, or months, getting to know what daily life is like in a new local, it's no wonder that cultural exploration programs, which give participants the chance to have a deeper experience of the country they visit, are in demand. Many programs combine cultural activities with volunteerism or language immersion, which helps participants to feel more invested in their host country, either through the bonds of communal labor or through developing a shared language.
Cultural exploration programs also often include language immersion elements. They can be a great way to start learning a language or take your existing skills to a new level. Gaining fluency and conversation skills in a second language is one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have. Taking part in a cultural exploration program also means that participants will encounter a wider range of people, and a broader vocabulary, than they would in a regular touristic experience.
Finally, cultural exploration programs can help to fill out a college resume. If you're interested in architecture, writing about the first time you saw the Duomo in Florence can add vividness to an admissions essay. Similarly, someone interested in biology can write about how their time in Costa Rica helped them to appreciate biodiversity.
To get the most out of a cultural exploration program, you should go to a country in which you have a genuine interest and, ideally, about which you already know something. A desire to learn about the culture and people with whom you'll be interacting is the most important thing to take into this kind of program. Without this desire to look outside your own frame of reference, it is all to easy to rely on stereotypes to combat feelings of not fitting in that come with experiencing life in a different country. Popular programs are:
- China: With millennia of rich historical, philosophical, and artistic developments under its belt, it's no wonder that China is one of the top destinations for cultural exploration programs. Programs in China often involve taking in Chinese theatre in addition to visiting cultural and historical landmarks.
- Costa Rica: Cloud forests, beautiful flowers, and unique wildlife all call Costa Rica home. Although its environmental splendor is one of the major draws, many people also choose to explore Costa Rica because of the local population’s vibrant culture. From musical styles to Pura Vida, Costa Rican culture is a treasure to experience.
- South Africa: With 11 different official languages, a cultural exploration trip to South Africa means engaging with one of the many different cultures that coexist within the country. People are drawn to the country's 75,000 year-long artistic tradition, as well as the beautiful landscapes and thriving independent film industry.
- Italy: Whether it's the gelato, the fashion, or the art & architecture, Italy is a popular destination for cultural exploration. Experiencing life in the laid-back countryside and Roman ruins of Campagne or the bustling cities of Rome and Milan will provide an unforgettable education.
- Private tours: Offered for families as well as individuals, these guided private tours give a glimpse into the cultural highlights of the country. These tours are more customizable and tailored to the specific interests of participants. However, although the tour guide does introduce local culture, they tend towards a more touristic experience.
- Group programs: Offered through private providers, group tours often involve cultural immersion, language, and volunteer components. Many programs pride themselves on going off the beaten path and experiencing life in rural villages. These programs have a more set agenda, but also more resources and more unique experiences. Group trips also offer the chance to make new friends and 24-7 support.
- Research: Congrats, you're already off to a great start on this one! Check out different countries & see what programs are right for you. Some good things to consider are: how long do you want to be abroad, do you want a language immersion component, do you want to do some community service work while abroad, and does the program visit the specific destinations you most want to see.
- Convince your folks to let you go: Notice that this step comes after the research. That's because having a clear idea of where you want to go, what you want to do, and as many detail as possible is the first step to getting your parents on board with your trip abroad. These tips on how to convince parents to support students taking a gap year can also be helpful for explaining why your cultural exploration program is an excellent idea. Focus on the cultural knowledge and personal growth you'll gain from the trip. If they aren't immediately convinced, listen to their concerns and try to address them. If you come back with a solution to their worries, they'll likely have more respect for the seriousness of your plans.
- Fundraising: Cultural exploration programs can be pricey, especially considering a lot of programs don't include airfare. Check out some fundraising ideas courtesy of GoOverseas. Another thing you can consider if money is a concern is looking into different destinations. Cost of living and local economies affect program rates, and airfare can vary wildly between countries, so a change in locale can bring the savings that will make your trip abroad possible.
- Book your trip & head off to adventure!
Cultural exploration is a wonderful way to start seeing the world and begin a lifelong commitment to global understanding and internationalism. It's also an amazing chance to learn about history, art, cuisine, and how simple daily living differs around the world. From the 'Grand Tours' that young Europeans made from the 17th to 19th centuries to the present day, world travel has been seen as extremely valuable for young people. Once you set off on a whirlwind tour, your travels will inform your life experiences from that point on.