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As my time at LHS is coming to an end, my best friend and I have been planning our future and sharing our hopes, dreams and how we plan to reach our goals. One of the many things we have talked about is the significance of research and understanding when it comes to travel and tourism. And as the traveling season approaches us, we should take the time to ask ourselves a very necessary question: What is considered cultural appropriation and how do I avoid it?
There is nothing wrong with being a tourist and a guest on foreign land, but with a novel area comes its native people. And it is so important to know and understand the histories and traditions of different cultures before you can speak on it. I am not saying that you should study and write a research essay before going, but I am asking that you don’t make blind decisions before. The traditional festivities and cultural dress of your travel destination is not just a prop for your vacation selfies. Cultural symbols that you do not understand are not a pretty decorative tattoo for your body. Some things have sacred meanings, more than we as guests will ever know. And I think it is so important to really take the time to experience and educate yourself before acting out of ignorance. The last thing anyone should ever want is to be labeled a “culture vulture.”
Their dress is not a costume, and their lifestyle isn’t a personality.
“It takes years and years to build a culture,” said LHS senior Bailey Alberda.
From religion, to sacred symbols and holidays, to traditional meals or dress, there are lifetimes invested in the growth of a culture, and it only takes a moment of ignorance to offend that construction.
“It is just so shocking to see people getting these traditional body ink as decorative tattoos,” said Alberda. “Just because they think it looks cool!”
You have to understand your place as a tourist in foreign areas of the world that you are not familiar with. To offend a culture’s people, whether out of ignorance or indifference, is extremely inappropriate. This is something everyone should take into consideration while traveling and touring places you’ve never been. Ask questions, observe, soak in the knowledge. Understanding the ways of a people can open your eyes to things you never would have known before. Experiencing the lifestyle of strangers around the world can make you more knowledgeable and well rounded in your worldly views.
“It is my goal in life to educate myself about other people’s livelihoods and cultures,” said Alberda, “I don’t want to be that person who just goes somewhere so I can say I’ve been there. Traveling, to me, is so much more than just popping in to say ‘hi.’ It’s about experiencing different cultures and understanding beliefs that differ from my own.”
And I completely agree with her. Some day, I would love to move to another country. Not to tour, but to find a home in other places in the world apart from which I originate. I want to have a greater understanding. I want to put myself in others’ shoes. I want to live and not offend.
I want you to remember that it is okay to appreciate other parts of the world and their cultures, but it is also important to understand the meaning behind certain traditions upon making a decision in a place of unfamiliarity.