a love for learning new things

I grew up in south Louisiana. If you have ever been south of Interstate 10 then you know that you are entering a completely different Louisiana than the rest of the state.
The Cajun culture runs deep in the veins of the people who live in the area known as Acadiana. I am a Cajun, and I can honestly say that has given me my love of other cultures. There are so many different stories, traditions, foods and art that comes with the “Cajun Way.” You can meet someone from New Iberia who does and says things completely different than someone from Lake Charles. In the end, though, we are all still cajun.
I say all this to say that I love experiencing new cultures. There is something so pure about learning about a culture that you have never known before. Four years ago, I was able to travel to Almaty, Kazakhstan to teach English for a month. To this day, that was the best month of my life. For a month I was able to experience a culture and people that I had not known about until four months before boarding the flight.
The first thing that I love about experiencing different cultures is learning, or trying to learn, the language.
Americans tend to have this idea that everyone in the world has to speak English and if they don’t then they are inferior. We even mock immigrants coming to our country who do not speak English. Because Kazakhstan was once part of the Soviet Union, the main language spoken in the country is Russian. When we landed in the Almaty airport I knew maybe two or three phrases in Russian, and I can tell you now that I was not pronouncing the few phrases I knew right. One of the things our team leaders made us do was to go on a scavenger hunt the second day we were there to learn the bus system and get acquainted with the city we would be living in for the next month.
It was really difficult navigating a bus system and city when you have no idea how to speak or read the language. We did our best and ended up completing all of the items on the list, but one particular moment stuck with me.
We were supposed to go to a store and get birdseeds. Trying to find out how to say birdseeds was hard enough, and turns out we had been saying it wrong. We walked into a little store and were wondering around aimlessly trying to complete the task. We ended up attempting to ask for help. No one in the store spoke English, and we barely spoke Russian. After lots of insane hand gestures, we finally found the items we were looking for.
After that moment I had a new appreciation for learning the language of the country you are visiting. And I had a new appreciation for the immigrants who come to America looking for a better life all while not knowing the language. Learning new languages is fun and gives you a better insight to the places you are visiting. It’s a way to communicate with the local people and with that, a way to experience the place in a new way.
Another thing I love about learning about new cultures is the food. I used to be a very picky eater, and kind of still am. My stay in Kazakhstan changed the way I look at foods from different places.
One thing we were told was to practice keeping a straight face when eating something knew, especially if we were a guest in someone’s house because you didn’t want to offend your host. I got pretty good at eating nasty foods and not showing it. I am so glad I was forced to eat different foods because I would not have tried much of the things we ate on my own. I eventually stopped asking what the meal consisted of because most of the time I didn’t like the answer. The fewer questions I asked, the more I was able to enjoy the food. Eating foods from different cultures gives you a look into the lives of the people you are learning about.
Just like in Cajun culture, recipes are passed down for generations. The food of a culture tells a story that words really can’t.
There was a little shashlik stand near the apartment complex where we were staying and shashlik quickly became my favorite meal in the country. Shashlik is basically a kebab cooked over a charcoal fire. I had never eaten lamb or duck before, but those were my favorite menu items. Another food I miss from that wonderful country is plov. Just a basic pilof rice dish made with lamb. It was served at almost every restaurant or dinner party we attended. A Cajun girl loves basically any rice dish.
It’s always fun traveling to a new place and seeing the difference in architecture. Because Kazakhstan was once part of the USSR, a lot of the buildings have basic block designs with gray colors. The most beautiful thing that we were able to see on the trip, though, was an Old Russian Orthodox church. It looked like something out of a movie. The colors were vibrant and the church itself was huge. We were able to go inside and look around, and even though it was what you would expect the inside of a church to look like, anytime I think of architecture in other countries, that church always comes to mind.
The last thing I love about experiencing new cultures is the people, of course. A culture is nothing without the people that it is made of. Without people, cultures would be inexistent. The best way to learn about a new culture is to learn from the people who are there.
We met some incredible people during our time in Kazakhstan. I will never forget the friends who cooked dinner for us; the friends who took us on hikes to the top of a mountain and down to a canyon; the friends who stopped what they were doing to help us understand the people around us; and the people who were patient with a group of Americans who had no idea what they were doing.
I used my trip to Kazakhstan as an example because that was the first time I was able to travel overseas and truly experience another culture. We were only there for a month, but I feel like I was able to learn so much about the Kazakh people. I also feel like there is much more to learn. I am forever grateful for the time I was able to spend in that beautiful country.
I love experiencing new cultures and meeting new people. I love everything about it. Writing this post just made me wish I was boarding a plane to a new place to learn more.


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