Creating and experiencing culture

Possibly the best thing about being on exchange is not the amazing sights we see (which are damn awesome), but is the people we get to meet.
Because being on exchange puts you in contact with other exchange students. 

In embarking on a foreign exchange you think you’ll be traveling to a foreign country to meet and mingle with the primary cultural group of the country you visit.
But uniquely in an exchange experience, this is not the case.
Because in attending a foreign university (outside of your first year) you do not generally befriend the locals (in this case Canadians)… as largely, they already have solidified friend groups, and as a result are not seeking new bonds (that’s a sad truth of human nature – our search for social security actually somewhat disables our ability to make new bonds). So instead! We make bonds and friendships with other foreign exchange students. Which is… in my biased opinion… A better result.

Exchange students are a unique and wonderful breed. 
We are all interested in travel.
We are all independent.
We are largely.. accustomed to hard work (although a rare few will have been handed this opportunity by mummy and daddy).
We are all over excited by the basic aspects of a new place that the locals find mundane. 
AND yet.. we are all SO different – having come from such a variety of places, religions, cultures, backgrounds and upbringings.
And this.. I love!

So today (and every Monday).. I’m fortunate to have a 1 hour break over lunch (from 12 till 1pm). And as a result I get to hurry home and refresh in an empty household, before scurrying off to the next class.
But.. today in particular, I bumped into Hoon (our male, South Korean flat mate) as he was skipping one class to study for another (as is the life of university students)..
And as I pulled an avocado and some rice biscuits from the cupboards to make lunch we had a surprisingly educational experience!

Firstly, Hoon had never seen, heard of or tried avocado.
So of course I gave him his first ever taste..
But the weird thing was.. how much I struggled with constructing a description of the fruit before letting him try it.
My attempt was along the lines of… its quite creamy. It grows on a tree. It’s good for you. It’s often in sushi. It’s very soft. It’s quite bland. It’s generally used for its texture.
Then he tried it.
Hoon’s description was far less influenced by education and media, it was less retrained… it was far better. It went along the lines of… At first it tastes like a melon; it’s texture is similar. But as you chew more, the texture becomes creamier and a chestnut – like flavor comes through.

And he was totally right! How could I not come up with that description!
The associations he could identify were too clearly distinguished by the market place in my western mind. I have been taught over the years that chestnuts, melons and avocados are not the same, and so my description could never have matched his.
It was a surprising moment.

And then! He began to tell me that the rice crackers I was eating were actually a common food used in funeral traditions in South Korea..
Every year, South Koreans remember the passing of their loved ones on the date they passed away, be preparing a feast – and setting out a table of food for the soul of the deceased.
There are specific ways the table must be set and generally a family will travel distances (depending on the relatives status within the family) to attended such a ceremony.
And again. .. Western culture couldn’t compare.
When he asked me what we do for funeral practices… All I could say, was that it is generally a 1 day event.
We say prayers and remember the life of the individual, and once they have been buried, our rituals are complete.. Which sounded so careless and emotionless compared to his continued, annual traditions.

Although! I am very fortunate to come from a Maori background also! (On my mummas side) So I could tell him of the ceremony of sleeping with the passed for 3 days and traditional feasting that Maori culture undergoes surrounding a funeral.
And that made me feel a little less careless.

But it is the experiences like this. And the differences like this. That shock me and leave me in thoughtful awe everyday.

In this massive and increasingly globalized world. We still know nothing about one another. And we still need to travel to get the insider information, and to truly understand the range of diverse cultures that exists around the globe.

It is a truth, that in understanding others. You also learn more about yourself.

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