Often when we learn about other cultures through travel or some other means, we see it as an opportunity to learn about someone or something not within our previous realm of experience. However, as I’ve experienced different cultures through learning and performing their dances over the past several years with the folk dance program at BYU, I’ve come to realize that in learning about others, I learn about myself.
As I’ve danced the dances of other cultures, I have come to find things that I identify with personally in different styles. I love the spirited enthusiasm in Mexican, the joy in Israeli, the strength in Hungarian, the grace in Irish, and the mystery in classical Indian. As I’ve learned these different styles, I’ve learned to access what they emphasize—joy, strength, grace, and everything else.
I felt similarly when I lived in Japan—the more I came to know the people, the more they became a part of me. And when I came back to America, I retained the parts of Japanese culture that I admired and respected.
It’s also rewarding to find bits of your culture in others. Last year, I was in China on a dance study abroad, and I had the opportunity to perform a cowboy dance with a cast that included Chinese and American students. Even though I am only slightly familiar with cowboy culture, it’s still something I identify as American, and there was something deeply rewarding about seeing my new Chinese friends portraying my culture and having a blast doing it.
There was no thought of inauthenticity in my mind, just gratitude that they were willing to experience my world and that I was able to experience theirs. I hope that in this issue of Stowaway, you have the opportunity to not just see someone else’s world but the opportunity to see your own world through someone else’s eyes.
I’ve been able to see many such worlds as I’ve worked with my peers: the beautiful capital of Armenia (p. 44), a Rwanda different than the one I heard about in the news years ago (p. 16), the theaters of London (p. 58), ancient Maya murals (p. 26), and more. The cultures I’ve read about while working on this issue of Stowaway have shifted my paradigm in ways that I’m sure will be more clear to me the next time I travel. But for now, it’s enough to know that my perceptions toward traveling have already changed.
I hope that as you experience the cultures within Stowaway’s pages—their quirks and their charms—you will not only come to appreciate them but will also allow them to change your world.
As Marcel Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”