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Off The Grid: How Foreign Travel Makes Us Better Citizens

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Off The Grid: How Foreign Travel Makes Us Better Citizens

Many years ago, my mind was instantly blown. It was my first time out of the country. I was in Brazil not three weeks. Struggling with the language. Technically a young man but mentally still a boy. The local in front of me had just expressed his lifelong frustration with the up and down valuation of his currency, the Brazilian real. It made life extremely difficult for him.

“Wait, you mean to tell me not everyone’s currency is as stable as the dollar?” I asked myself. “Much of what I take for granted is fought for elsewhere?”

For me, this was a watershed moment in international relations … one I’ll never forget and the first of many more while on foreign soil.

But the domestic benefits of going abroad encompass a lot more than just appreciation or detestation for the way things are done back home. More than just better global citizens, here’s how foreign travel makes us better natives, locals, and even patriots.

It Makes You a Better Native Speaker

Until I learned Portuguese, I had no idea how English worked. I knew how to construct sentences and remembered some bogus rule about “i before e except after c.” But I didn’t know why English worked until I learned a second language. This doesn’t apply to those who insist on only using their native tongue, which is a shame. But even a basic understanding of another language can force you to appreciate the one you’ve always taken for granted.

It Makes You a More Informed Patriot

The Atlantic put it best when they said, “To make America great again, we need to leave the country.” In other words, it’s harder to make improvements without observing how other people do things—for better or worse. This applies to blue and red Americans as well as any others in developed or developing countries. This is how you fact-check your worldview rather than just accepting a popular adage. Foreign travel facilitates this.

It Challenges Your Prejudices

Because many Americans live such comfortable lives—often in the spotlight of the global stage even—some of us harbor an unmatched fear of the world, reports CNN. Although we’re the second best traveled people after Finns, we don’t immerse ourselves while abroad as much as we could. This keeps our fear and prejudice levels abnormally high. Since we always fear what we don’t understand, seeing something for yourself is the best way to combat this.

It Makes You More Charitable

Something funny happens when we engage a foreign culture. Obviously, the act reminds us of how different we all are. But it also highlights how similar we are. When that happens, we soon realize that we’re all playing for the same team, which builds empathy and leads to more charity. Go, team human!

But Wait—There’s More!

Travel, foreign as well as domestic, inspires confidence, enhances relationships and improves health among other things. No, it’s not a cure-all. But it’s a proven remedy to many of life’s ills.

Photo: Sam Antonio Photography, CC-BY

Off the Grid columnist Blake Snow writes epic stories for fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies. Follow him on Twitter.

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