December 17, 2011, by Stephen Mumford


The old cliché is that travel broadens the mind. Is there any truth in it? There are many ways of learning about cultures and languages but surely the most pleasing is to go and experience it firsthand. Naturally our universities will offer a year abroad as standard for anyone on its language degrees. In time overseas the traveller finds that ours is not the only perspective on the world and how to live in it.

I have visited hardy souls living in the Arctic Circle, away from the town and in perpetual winter darkness. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing South America with its fusion of European and native influences. Spanish siestas are a nuisance to the British tourist but for the locals they are a way of life. From Tokyo to Cape Town to Istanbul I have enjoyed the challenge to my own standards of what is normal.

Without experience of other cultures, it is so easy never to see beyond one’s own. Not everything one encounters elsewhere makes sense. Some of it is seems downright irrational. But it is often rational to those who live it. Seeing so can lead us to question our own assumptions and wonder whether they too might be irrational. And then we realise that we can learn from others. That long French dinner with wine that lasts all evening may seem to Brits a waste of time and yet look at what it contributes to their sense of well-being. Couldn’t we do with some of that?

The more we travel the more our own culture can become enriched. Without outside influences we stagnate. Culture should be a living dynamic process rather than a fixed and insular set of sacrosanct values.

We share but a single small planet. Upon its dry surfaces is a fascinating array of languages and cultures. This is what makes ours a wonderful world in which to live.

Posted in Culture and Area StudiesModern Languages