How to travel internationally without leaving your own country
My observation: In my quest to explore the cultures of the world, I really don’t even need to leave the safety and familiarity of my own country. I could just explore the different pockets of culture here on my own soil, or even just stay in my neighborhood and continue to experience the variety of cultures right here on my own block. It would certainly be much less intimidating than going overseas, but you know what? I’m going to do it instead of just talking about it. I’m going to go to the actual countries, and even stay for a while, at least a month in each one, and experience the cultures fully.
How to decide where to go
My hometown often tops the list of “The most culturally diverse cities in the USA”, so I’ve experienced many different cultures. I’ve already visited the countries on the USA’s border so I am going to need to fly across the ocean. Since I am on the west coast of the USA, Asia is the closest flight and the culture most diversified from my own. Our local high school has 14 languages spoken so I have heard Asian tonal languages, but I just can’t understand them. Now I need to narrow my choices down to countries. What better way to decide than by the taste of their food. This is easy to research. Locally, we have restaurants representing food from virtually every country, so I now debate whether to begin my journey in either Taiwan, Thailand or Vietnam, Language is the next consideration. I finally chose Vietnam because it has a Roman alphabet so I assume that it will be easier for me to read and pick up the language. (By the way, my assumption was horribly wrong, but more about that later). I’ve heard it doesn’t really matter though, that you can get by with English almost anywhere.
What it is like to live in a culturally diverse neighborhood in the USA where your neighbor speaks a different language than you
Let me tell you a bit about my city of Rancho Cordova, a suburb of Sacramento. The USA is divided into states, and Sacramento is California’s capital city. Many towns have Spanish names because the land belonged to Mexico in the 1800’s. Most of the neighborhoods have a mixture of cultures and languages. On my cul-de-sac of 9 houses, three households are from Ukraine and Russia, one from Mexico, one from Philippines and one from UK. Most of my neighbors were not born in the USA and many do not speak English. America has no official language, so all languages are supported. Rancho Cordova received a designation of “All American City” in 2010. Our claim to fame is that the neighborhoods are culturally and ethnically integrated, as you can see by the description of the households on my block.
Some cities have cultural pockets rather that culturally diverse neighborhoods
It’s more common for culturally diverse cities to have culture pockets like in nearby Sacramento where you can visit Little Saigon for example. That’s the neighborhood where I was born. Saigon was the name of the capital of Vietnam until it was renamed Ho Chi Minh City after the war. At that time, a lot of people from Vietnam moved to this neighborhood and the residents have even erected a sign on the freeway exit that says Little Saigon. There is all sorts of Vietnamese culture there. Many of the signage is written in Vietnamese and that’s okay. A person can speak any language they desire and most government documents are translated into at least 14 languages because the USA has no official language. Back when the country was formed, English and German were both in the running to become the official language. Agreement was not imminent so no official language was declared, and it has remained so.
Vietnamese food and language
Vietnam, here I come! Have you tasted the Vietnamese dish called pho? It’s a noodle soup that Vietnam is famous for. We have 3 pho restaurants just in my town, so obviously it’s very popular. When I want to have Vietnamese food, I usually visit a restaurant down the street called Andy Nguyen, and I order the cashew chicken, but last winter when I was helping my friend campaign for the senate, one of my co-workers, whose parents came over from Vietnam, took me there to celebrate our final day of campaigning. It’s the perfect meal for a cold day. I found out from her that the dish is pronounced fuh, like in the word fun. I ask myself, in what world is a word with an o on the end of it pronounced fuh? And you know that restaurant I frequent, Andy Nguyen, it is pronounced Andy Wen. This is just a foreshadowing of things to come. Anyway, can’t wait to get to Vietnam and and try some pho in the homeland!
Travel tip: Nervous about leaving your country? Find cultural pockets in your own backyard.