International cultural connections series: Research your story beyond the Internet

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I’ve traveled to more than 20 countries (some more than once) and lived in Japan for two years. When I visited most of those countries, I either knew people there who could show me around or was on an educational program. For about two or three countries, I cheated and went on a tour. (One of the countries was in the Middle East and too complex to understand and get around without language and deep cultural understanding.)

There are many people who have traveled around the world and have “cheated” and took tours. When you travel on tours you barely scratch the surface of that country’s culture. On these tours you are escorted around and herded like little sheep and you barely have time to negotiate prices in the local language or try something completely new by accident like street food or an awesome little shop where you can buy goods not found online.

In this series of blog posts, I challenge you to explore the culture around you every day and to try your best to travel overseas and engage with “the locals.” Not only is this food for the soul and a heck of a good way to find writing inspiration, but I promise you the experience will set you free and allow you to open up to nuances of cultural interaction that you may have never noticed before. So many of my experiences traveling overseas and getting to know other cultures have influenced me as a science fiction and fantasy writer. There is a whole world out there that is waiting to be explored by you in your own unique way and if you’re a writer, the experience will leave a permanent imprint on you (for good or bad).

I live near a very multicultural city so anytime I want to “travel the world,” I can search for local event listings and find an event (Salsa, African drumming or Japanese tea ceremony anyone?). There are many ways to reach cultures you never knew existed near your “small town.” There’s a social networking site called Meetup.com. You can use the site to either start your own culture or travel “meetup” or join someone else’s. Universities are often a hotbed of intercultural activity and often host many international students. Get to know some students there. Imagine how happy they’d be to share their culture with you! No matter whether you write genre or literary fiction, you will be inspired and the stories you tell will come across more authentic for having done the hands-on research.

I live in the midwest and there are only black and white people here.

So. That’s a terrible reason not to get to know another culture. Perhaps there’s an immigrant black or white family in that group. Have you ever considered that?

I live in Texas and my only neighbors are the tumbleweed.

No excuse. You’re too close to the Mexican border and you’re probably not far from an enclave of Mexican or Mexican-American families.

There are also study abroad programs many colleges and community colleges operate that might give you the opportunity to study abroad if you’re in college. I also just recently learned about the Road Scholar program. Yes, it’s cheating, you’d be going on a tour, but at least it’s educational. My personal favorite tour company is Gate1Travel (very affordable). If you take that route, finds ways to go off the beaten path after your itinerary ends and interact with the locals, even if it’s just to talk to a shopkeeper.

This invitation to travel post is the first in the international cultural connections © series. Please drop a line in the comments section and let me know about your travel adventures and how you’ve used it in writing. Also feel free to ask me questions about how to travel around the world on a budget. Trust me, I’ve done it and I’m not rich! I am rich in experiences though.

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