The ground beneath my boots shook from the force of my imprint, welcoming my timid heart into the beauty of its being. Foreign lands filled with stories of artists who shaped the definition, architecture that withstood times of war and peace, and cuisine created for your taste buds to fall in love with.
This was Italy.
Cobblestone streets spanned in every direction. Iron designs decorated windows, and doors built large enough to make way for a giant adorned the city. Age was etched into every aspect, beautifully brought to life by the people inhabiting it.
The subtle pounding of my heart echoed in the corridors of my mind loud enough to shatter mirrors. For the first time, the world I knew didn’t exist. In its place lay an unknown canvas of discovery, a page in a novel yet to be written and I held the pen.
I stepped off the aircraft with an idea of what I would become with my travels – a better writer, a kinder person, even a more mature woman – but soon I came to realize that expectations are a crutch. Traveling does not form you into a new person or help you find yourself. It only shows you who you’ve always been.
So I asked myself, “What are you running from?”
The answer came easier than I thought.
Culture as a Tool
Culture is one of the most powerful avenues for learning. Most people don’t think culture is a tool, just a byproduct of the way people live. As a writer I tend to look at things like a child – with wonder and awe. Culture is the tool that makes that easier.
It makes us question, helps us see clearly and changes us forever. Why? Because it shows us possibility when our “normal” routine silently promised us stagnant paths and life without living.
But, I’m getting into the poetry of things.
Before I left the U.S. I thought that a trip overseas was a once in a lifetime experience because that’s what most American culture sets in our minds. The idea of Europe, Australia, Asia, Africa, The Middle East – all of them seemed like a dream or a nightmare. The things that happen “over there” either seem too good to be true or a gross negligence in human behavior.
The good news is that the dream of Europe is an extremely real possibility – achingly so – once you realize that everything you’re told growing up about other cultures and countries is nothing like it really is.
When I began my European journey I was ignorant of the fact that I was incompetent. I was consciously aware of every effort I made while living in another country and experiencing new things; I walked more, ate things I’d never touched and picked out items from the market I couldn’t even read the name of.
I wore new clothes, met people on a personal level and jumped when I had the opportunity to fly. I forgot everything my life shaped me into and allowed another version to take her place. Most importantly…
… I started writing again.
Something I stopped when I buried myself under school and work stress, and the expectations of family.
A lot of people won’t travel because they’re afraid. Flying, getting kidnapped or mugged – a lot of fears that can happen anywhere, yet traveling to another place is associated with them. I think they’re afraid of what travel will show them or rather reveal about their own lives – that everything they know isn’t what they thought.
Why is culture a tool? Because it opens our eyes to possibility and shows us who we are buried under meaningless worries and drama. It shows us what we’re capable of when we’re willing despite being afraid.
That’s what it did for me.
Writing With A Cultural Perspective
Curiosity is a pivotal part of being a writer. Curiosity to see where the ideas lead or to go beyond the comfort zone to find those ideas in the first place. Culture gives us an opportunity to explore things unfamiliar to us and push past those fears.
It also helps you do a few other things, like….
- Paying Attention
The world becomes a blur when you stop noticing it. That’s why day to day lives are often on autopilot for a lot of people. Instead of paying attention to the smallest things, autopilot is a go-to for us without even realizing it’s happening. Culture helps you pay attention to things you didn’t notice before.
You notice your breathing moment to moment. Your stamina as you hike mountains in Switzerland or walk the streets of Italy. You notice how one culture reacts to rain compared to your own. It makes you miss the details and wish for a blending once you’ve left. Luckily, writing is a perfect way to capture that.
- Opening Up
Basically everything in another country is new, so those things might make you afraid. Culture helps you step outside your comfort zone, creating stories even in the smallest steps.
Like when I ate spiny lobster and black gnocchi, not realizing it was black because it was infused with squid ink – Oh and I hate seafood. Or when I submitted my writing to a magazine and got published when I thought I wouldn’t. Facing my fears, right?
Those stories are worth writing because you’re not the only one feeling them. Don’t be afraid to share them even if they’re small.
When you can see a situation from someone else’s perspective, even if you don’t agree with it, it allows you to understand. Understanding is why writers writer – because we need to work something out. It also helps us create believable characters and situations.
- Thinking Outside the Box
You don’t have your go-to’s in another country, forcing our brains to come up with something else. This problem solving skill is great for writing, too because it helps us create fiction and devise plans for on our own issues.
- Enhancement of Learning
Culture fuels your desire to learn, which is why it’s such a life-changing experience. Stimulating the mind causes us to kick into gear and explore, and exploration gives us the best stories.
Don’t let fear hold you back.
Experiencing different cultures can stretch your mind, and once that idea of the world is stretched, it can’t return to what it was. Use the culture around you and in different places you travel to fuel your creativity and help you record your stories.
I believe that you can’t fully write about a place until you’ve left it. Being away from a place allows you to see the beauty in even the tiniest aspects – and the faults. Florence, Italy was my saving grace. People often speak about when they travel abroad, having a wonderful experience and coming back a changed person. They weren’t lying.
Traveling abroad saved my life.
The complete disarray and the inability to figure out what I wanted in life held me in a stagnant state of being. I became a victim of situations, convinced that life just happened to you and you didn’t choose anything.
It helped me see the world differently and record that through stories.
After traveling abroad, not only have I accepted who I am, but now I’m committed to living a life I want and not what others tell me to.
Written by Taylor Rae Davis, Writing Coach & Find the Freedom Founder
Taylor Rae Davis is a writer, author and coach for writers who want to feel confident in their ability, tell stories from the heart, and make writing an integral part of their lives. When she’s not writing fiction, reading everything in sight or watching a supernatural TV show, she’s traveling, and creating kickass content to help her readers get past their fears, get their ideas on paper and live up to their true creative potential. Be sure to check out her blog, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook!)
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