Now with the summer behind us, remembering only gives us nostalgia for the good old days of beaches, sleeping in, and binge-watching TV. The golden days of doing nothing. But is that all summer’s good for? This year, rather than spending my summer baking on the beach or eyes glued to the screen like I normally do, I decided this was my opportunity for unique experiences. Finally, freed from the daily prison of school, I was ready to do things I couldn’t do chained to my desk. I went to summer school. And traveled.
So far it’s not sounding very unique – or different from school, but I’ll tell you why my summer was different from the typical sightseeing or study experience you’d expect.
In fact, I’d even go as far to say this summer was the best time I’ve ever had abroad; mainly due to the new attitude I developed while traveling. I was able to engage with the local culture and made an active effort to connect with people in the United Kingdom, and in doing so, instead of simply gaining knowledge and cultural information, I obtained a new lifestyle and perspective.
Tourists (especially those in China) are notorious for their newfound love of traveling, and because of this, large tour groups have cropped up all over the world, exclusively visiting the most picturesque, well-known locations, and as a result, tourism has become a largely superficial, materialistic industry. Photos are great – but how much do you really obtain from a place except more WeChat posts and less storage space?
Sometimes, when you pass a beautiful place, it’s better to admire the beauty without a camera screen in front of you. Strolling through the beautiful botanical wonders of Kew Gardens or Wonderland-esque campuses in Oxford, I wouldn’t have noticed the magic if I was only looking for content for my Instagram.
As for travelling, there’s nothing wrong with tour groups; it’s what my family did on our first day in London, but there’s only so much you can learn from a generic tour – you can gain so much more by navigating a route yourself.
So we tried a different a travel method at our next stop in Scotland – plugging in coordinates on the GPS, we embarked on a self-planned road trip across the highlands of Scotland. Driving from Edinburgh to Inverness, we were met with the scenic and serene side of this foreign country. We were able to visit small towns and villages that really introduced us to the native culture and landscape of the country we were in. By living in local communities, talking to locals, eating at small pubs, we were able to experience a side of Scotland separate from the hectic tour bus life that hustles you from one sightseeing location to the next.
Another way I was able to really understand other cultures was through summer camp. Spending two weeks at first Cambridge then Oxford, I befriended people from over fifty different nationalities. It was the best summer camp experience I’ve ever had, simply because it was something so novel, so bizarrely different from the life I had back home. Normally, people from the same country tend to stick together, simply because our backgrounds are similar. But at camp, in those two weeks, it was the exact opposite – everyone scrambled to find the drastically most different people for the sake of it. Our group of friends barely had anyone from the same country. And that’s the magical thing about summer – you can live a completely different life if you choose to.
In those four weeks, I learned about various stereotypes, tasted “real Italian food, not that crappy dining hall spaghetti” cooked by my friend, and was educated in Spanish, Lithuanian, Israeli, and French music on bus rides that were way too long.
I engaged in discussions about international politics, interviewed people on their aspirations and dreams, and passionately debated whether pineapple belonged on pizza (against the Italian population, of course). And although literature was one of my subjects of study, my greatest enlightenment came from the books my friends recommended me, the classics of their own countries. I may have taken a course in philosophy and learned about German and Italian philosophy, but I saw it play out in real time amongst my friends. In my time at camp, I was able to learn not only the basic cultural aspects such as music, food, and language of countries, but I understood values, attitudes, and developed a new way of looking at the world. And this goes for anywhere you travel; if you’re able to see the world in a new way, I’d safely say your trip was worth it.
And just because the summer’s over doesn’t mean you have to wait until the next one! These approaches can be applied to anywhere new you go. Put the phone away and engage with your surroundings. Take the road less travelled. Go out of your way to talk to someone you normally wouldn’t. Basically, make it your goal to experience something new. By developing a new attitude towards the world, your life will change.
Photos: Tina Sang
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