Something unusual happened while I was walking with a friend in a little Bulgarian town, on the right bank of the Danube river. While we were seeing some ancient sites by the river, I noticed that a group of people were staring at us from behind. A while later, I turned around and these people were still staring at me. “Get used to it,” said my friend, “You might be the first Chinese ever hanging around this town!”
Now that globalization takes place, of course, the chances of you being stared at (because you look too different) are very slim, especially in cities like New York or Paris.
It seems much easier for travellers to instantly dive into a brand new cultural experience. Yet wherever you go, the challenge is there. And as much as I like the popular touristic places, sometimes I would love to tread a different path into a less known town and even blend in a little. Then there it was. That look. “You are not from here.” All of a sudden, the gate into a colorful cultural world is shut. People put labels on me: a Chinese, a woman, an English speaker, a traveler of color… They expect me to behave in certain ways. I am confused. I start to question myself. Am I doing something wrong? Are people judging me? Do I look like an awkward outsider now??
My experience taught me, whether you like travelling solo or with a group of friends, some guidance from locals can’t hurt! Call someone you know who lives in the place. It can also be a chance to meet up with an old friend! If you don’t have local resources, there are plenty of blog articles or online forums sharing real-life traveling experiences. Some simple research makes you aware of the Do’s and Don’ts in a different culture, and helps you become more integrated in the local life. You may also want to learn a few simple phrases if you don’t speak the language, so that you won’t be desperately searching for a bathroom with some odd hand movements.
Don’t forget to set your mind free! It’s true. Real life isn’t always like guidebooks and movies. Travelling can be stressful and people aren’t always as nice. I remember once being neglected while waiting in line to buy a ticket, and twice being stopped from entering shops only because of the color of my skin.
Respecting all human beings as equal is, sadly, still a problem in some places of our beloved world. Yet don’t shy away from approaching people. I was surprised to see that sometimes people were just as curious about me as I was about them, and I have had meaningful conversations. Who knows, you may end up understanding them and even changing their opinion! And what if some people are just rude, won’t accept you or even make you feel like an outsider? Chances are you will never see them again! So what have you got to lose?
Freya Ziyan Lu
Featured image credits via Elizaveta Porodina.
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