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Travel Journaling Exercise: Foreign at Home

By Dave Fox

You don’t have to travel far from home to find yourself in a foreign environment. We each have a set of subcultures in which we live. But the area where we live is also full of other subcultures to which we don’t belong and can’t fully relate.

I’m American. I’ve lived in Maryland, Wisconsin, Washington State, England, Norway, Turkey, and Singapore. Each of these places defines part of who I am. My native language is English. I speak Norwegian and French. I was raised by a Lutheran mother and a Jewish father who took me to a Unitarian church on Sundays. Now I follow a Chinese philosophy called Taoism. I have worked with deaf people. I have an amateur radio license. I am a writer. I like Mediterranean food and Belgian beer. I live in a condominium. I’ve been a professional tour guide. I am short. I went to high school in the 1980s.

Each one of these things defines one of my sub-cultures.

Hundreds of different factors define your own personal subcultures:

  • Where you live
  • Places you have lived in the past
  • Language
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Education
  • Career
  • Body size
  • Family size
  • Marital status
  • Whether or not you have children
  • Age
  • Income level
  • Political views or affiliations
  • Medical history

These are just a few of them.

What are your subcultures? Make a list.

When you’re finished with that list, make a second list. Write down some of the subcultures in your hometown that you don’t belong to — places where you would feel out of place.

Next, choose a place in your hometown where you are foreign, and go there. Spots to consider include:

  • A place of worship
  • An ethnic neighborhood, club, or restaurant
  • A place frequented by people outside of your age group such as a nursing home or popular high school hangout
  • A club that discusses something you know nothing about
  • A bar frequented by types of people you don’t normally associate with
  • A concert with music you don’t normally listen to. (Crowds vary tremendously at symphonies, punk shows, country-western concerts, and Zydeco dances.)
  • A meeting for a political group you don’t affiliate with

There are hundreds of other possibilities. Get creative.

If you are worried about feeling awkward or out of place at the spot you have chosen, you’ve made a good choice. The idea in this exercise is to step out of your comfort zone and get as foreign as possible. It’s natural to feel worried that you will stand out. Take a deep breath and go anyway.

While you’re there, you can go under cover and try to fit in, or you can tell people why you’re there and chat with them about their culture. It’s up to you.

When you get home, journal about your experience. How did people react to you? How did you feel? What did you learn about this culture? What did you discover about yourself?

This is a scary exercise, but with the right attitude, it can be great fun. Be brave. Don’t fight the awkward feelings that might come. Let yourself feel them.

And when you’re finished, reward yourself for your bravery!

 

How did this exercise work for you? After you’ve done it, tell us about your experience in the comments section below. 

Published on Friday, January 2, 2004

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