The travel bug causes you to have the urge to travel to different countries and explore things you have not yet discovered. The focus of this article is to bring light to one of the effects of getting bitten by the travel bug. I call it the “Cultural Comparison Disease (CCD)”. This disease unconsciously makes you compare your culture to the ones you have experienced in the past. They say once you have had the best, you will live your entire life looking for better than what you already had.
When one gets CCD, all of your senses seem to be programmed to compare everything to past experiences. I see this as a super power because I get the opportunity to fuse multiple cultures with locals and foreigners in the town. As well as become part of an important movement created from the comparison of cultures.
A Professor of Criminology at the University of Leeds, United Kingdom, Susanne Karstedt states the following in her book Crime, Law and Social Change: "Globalization will intensify contacts - and perhaps conflicts - between cultures more than ever in the history of humankind. The flow of migrants around the world, global business and global consumption provide us new experiences of difference and diversity as well as of common ground.” (Karstedt, pg. 285) One can say that countries have changed over the years. Some have become more popular, populated, dangerous etc. because of tourism and globalization. But do these increasing intersections between different cultures promote diversity or lead to cultural homogenization?
In reality, we have to keep in mind that increasing globalization is affecting the countries we visit. Comparing cultures for oneself can be eye opening, but it is essential for the future of traveling because it gives us a personal insight into our impact as tourists. Conscious travelers are like sponges; every time they travel they soak up information about the various cultures with which they come in contact. This is not only useful for research in development and globalization for sociologists and anthropologists, but also for a personal understanding of one’s own culture.
If you visit a country and avoid interactions with locals then the economic progress will only stay within the regions you travel to. Many of the underdeveloped countries one travels to have been affected in some way by Western culture. I can relate to this because as an American Citizen, I always have this guilt in me for traveling to a country my homeland once exploited. Although Costa Rica is a country influenced by the American culture, my experiences here are not what I expected.
I am currently living in Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica. I have been here since the beginning of June, and I am on my last few weeks before I go back to my hometown in Chicago. My time in Costa Rica has been marvelous but, reflecting back, a recurring practice of mine was comparing my Mexican-American culture to the Costa Rican one.
Although I was not born in Mexico, the best times of my life were spent in Acapulco. I am currently forty hours away from my family, spicy foods, and good music, so I am always tempted to buy a one-way ticket and never return. However, I came to Costa Rica for a reason, and that reason is to, although quite similar, experience cultures outside of my own. In other words, I want to progressively cure my CCD.
I constantly compare the animals, the beaches, the food, and even the way people speak Spanish here. At times it is annoying because I do not enjoy the ‘Pura Vida’ the way I am supposed to, and I find it hard for me to understand the culture here. The fact that Costa Ricans have one main dish, which is Casados (includes rice, beans, salad, and meat), yet they sell a variety of American styled foods (fast foods) and accept dollars everywhere you go says a lot about the extent of Western influence.
In Mexico, everyone uses pesos, has a variety of traditional foods, produces their own type of music, and celebrates many traditions throughout the year. The first few weeks I was extremely disappointed because I was expecting the Pure Life to be less of what I am used to, but I keep finding myself doing and eating the same things I would in America.
When I was in Nicaragua, a local told me they didn’t like Ticos (Costa Ricans), but I never understood why. Therefore, when I received the opportunity to visit Costa Rica, I could not wait to get my question answered. I asked a local why Nicaragua had beef (rivalry) with Costa Rica, and he said “They are mad at Costa Rica and Panama because we basically sold our culture; we did not take initiatives to save and preserve our culture”. The fact that many Costa Rican restaurants serve more fast foods and people prefer dollars over their own currency is symptomatic of this unequal cultural exchange.
I do not want to make Costa Rica seem like it is not a country worth visiting because, like globalization, there are always positive sides to it. Costa Rica has amazing wildlife. Many of the animals you find here are very rare or endemic, and the country takes pride in being environmentally friendly to preserve the habitats of these animals for future generations. Also, visiting the country provides a lot of jobs for locals and supports local initiatives like recycling and community workshops. Besides, you’re never too far away from a shop that sells Oreos.
CCD is common in the 21st century. Today, there are fewer languages and cultural diversity due to Western influences on culture. You can learn a lot from struggling with CCD by using the act of comparing cultures in a positive way. The process is to learn from people outside of one’s culture and to prefer a culture in its raw form. Do not be afraid to let a culture outside of your own change you in Costa Rica because it’s the small things that make a difference.
Next time you travel, I dare you to open your eyes and look at the problems, talk to the people, and experience decades of history in a single moment. Knowing the past and present struggles the place you are visiting will give you a new perspective of the country, so take it all in and reflect on it.
In order to enjoy the present, one must imagine the future.
Crime, Law and Social Change, 2001, Volume 36, Number 3, Page 285 Susanne Karstedt
By Estrella Vargas - Media and Journalism Intern
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