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Five Ways to Welcome More Culture Into Your Life

Hamar family in Southern Ethiopia. 2015

1. Travel  

Leave your house, the school, the town, the city you’re reading this in!  Leave your state, the country, maybe even you familiar continent for a while, to go and see what’s out there.  Traveling for the sake of experience, growth and adventure is more accessible now than ever before, making it easier to use your globe-trotting as a tool to enrich your perspective on life. Today, the cost of travel is so relatively little for what it gives you: priceless experiences brought about by out-of-comfort-zone travel and culturally immersive interactions with other humans in “faraway” places.  

How to Get Started

Momentary Interactive Engagement  

There are so many ways to travel, and endless places to go. Start with an idea, make it into a goal,  and take one step toward it. Start right now. Take a hike, bike, run. Where? Somewhere, anywhere. You could simply drive to a spot, explore around, and drive back if you must, or let the power of your own body get you there, then explore. Without taking yourself completely out of the moment, jot down some quick notes on paper about what you’ve observed on this adventure.  

As scenes pass through the mind’s eye while riding along on a journey, observations are inevitably made, knowledge is increased, and new curiosities are created.  

A line of questioning for the culturally focused observer might be:

“What are the humans doing, how are they interacting to keep themselves comfortable?  

How are people relating to one another, what have humans built to relate more or connect more efficiently?  What do they do to occupy time and how is it different by themselves and within groups.  Does group size change how people interact? In what ways do people react to music differently?"

These are a couple starter logs for the fire.  Later you can assess your notes and find a subject that sparked your interest for more thorough research.   

If travel is not an immediate or possible option for you at this time, it is possible to create the space and intention of “experiencing a familiar place as with new eyes”. Sometimes we must remind ourselves to seek out and create opportunities for positive transformation for ourselves and those we love. Immersive experience is the most authentic window into the obtainment of knowledge and cultural insight on a subject.

2.  Watch anthropological, sociological, geographical, historical and ethnomusicological documentaries

Ok, to clarify, that big bunch of words are simply a few different terms to explain parts of a larger subject that we refer to as cultural studies.

The root form of the first word is Anthropology. This includes the study of thousands of unique cultures around the world today and their distinct languages and histories.  

The next word’s root is Sociology, the study of groups of people and how the individuals within these groups interact among each other.

Geography is earth and land and water and their relation to space and each other.  

History is what we know and don’t know of what came before us.  

It’s also important to study who writes history, why history is told as it is, and how to shape our outlook and intentions today to define what will be the honest history that the future knows tomorrow.  A person’s understanding of history forms the basis for what they believe the potential that their present reality can be.

Ethnomusicology... okay, that constitutes more than a few idea chunks glued together.  Put simply, it’s the study of musical instruments and the people and cultures who created them.  As with anything, there are endless facets of interest within this subject. An example of questioning in the logic of an Ethnomusicologist might be to the effect of: “What materials were used to manufacture the traditional instruments of this particular group of people during a certain time period compared to its use today? Have other culture’s musical styles and playing techniques amalgamated or collaborated with this groups traditions?”

How to Get Started

Think of someplace far away from where you’re reading this. Any place that comes to mind. Let’s get random and take the country called Congo in Africa. Different things may already come to mind when you think of this region: child soldiers, cell phone minerals, loving sanctuaries for wild gorillas. Don’t let your mind stop there at those topical tidbits of information we’ve stuck to here in the west. Ask questions and go deeper! Check some super high resolution images, watch some new HD videos of the nature, people, dance, transportation, music, instrument building, singing, storytelling, fashion, royalty and history.  Get yourself closer to what it means to be from Congo, to really experience the vibe of Congo, as if you were from the country itself. Now imagine seeing your own surroundings in this moment where you sit as a person from Congo might.

Womba Africa performs live at the Nkabom World Music and Culture Festival

3.  Attend a performance or event  

Technology has recently allowed for more intentional movement by people around the globe than ever before.  Social media in all its forms, has created massive channels and reservoirs of media outlets, networks, sponsorship and opportunity.  All over the world, right now, there are countless small and large scale events that featuring extraordinary performances and workshops by artists, cultural  performers, philosophers, builders and creators, some of the best out of a pool of six billion. Experiencing live music and arts performance can captivate, invigorate, and make learning relative to real life.  We foster a fulfilling future by adapting our current environment to promote relevant learning and educational opportunities for ourselves and those we love.

How to Get Started

Use the internet to research the annual music and cultural festivals from listings in large towns and cities near you.  Choose a live experience that you’ve never been to or planned to go to before. Try this exercise when deciding what to choose:  Imagine that you are a very close friend or family member who knows you almost as well as you know yourself. Pick the top three things that they would think that you absolutely must experience.  This hopefully allows for some variation to what you might otherwise be interested in, yet pass over for something more familiar or that you’d already wanted to go see.

Prepare your outing in advance with the intention of experiencing a cultural education opportunity that’s fun and enriching.  Grab some great food, set up easy transportation and lodging if necessary, experience the event as a young college student or intern reporter on assignment.  Jot those intermittent notes of observations and inquiries. Make time later to go deeper into the directions of thought that you alluded to in your notes.

You may start to notice you daily life in different ways.  Things that once were background “filler” or seemingly mundane might be noticed in a different light or relatively different way.  Culture is certainly in full color and happening everywhere non-stop.

Girl and young violinists. Morro Do Alemão - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

4.  Become fluent in another language

I hear ya, I hear ya…. for some, just hearing that phrase can bring up a twinge of anxiety in the gut.  Remember, these are five FUN genius ways to grow your I.Q.! Approach this task as if you had your whole life to learn and function in a different language.  Not just this month, or this year, or this decade; your whole life. Hopefully that will take some pressure off and open the window wider for the possibility of a fulfilling life-long learning experience.

How to Get Started

The formula here is engagement, consistency, duration.  Even if it’s a half hour practice, set a timer and stay focused on the study material and objectives that you or your teacher has created for the session.  Make it fun, engaging and practical. Incorporate all elements of cultural richness into learning a particular language.

Think of it, if you will, as learning the language and culture together. They are, after all, different sides of the same coin -- let them assist one another in bringing more clarity to the concept or challenge at hand. Try to find ways to incorporate verbal expression and interaction with the food, art, dance, fashion, geography, or landscape in the language of a region that interests you and their countless linguistic nuances and terminologies.  No learning happens in isolation as far as the brain is concerned.

The growth of a new language in a person can seem to happen as gradually and subtly as watching a child grow up. Not much discernable difference from day to day, yet somehow or another in a few months or a year there are massive changes taking place in the operating systems and interactions. Immersion is often said to be the most effective and “quick” form of becoming fluent in a language. While this may be true, a great deal of people learn a different language without ever having visited the country.  If someone wanted to and figured out how, you certainly can figure out a way that works with your unique learning strengths.

There’s a great method to assist in becoming fluent at another language.  It’s essentially the same for becoming fluent in an instrument.

Learning an instrument: A lifetime of learning, challenge and fun.

5.  Become fluent in an instrument

Trust me, I’ve heard these so many times:  “Ugh, I’ve tried it before and I can’t do it.”  Or “I never tried, always wanted to, but playing an instrument always seemed too hard, and I don’t even know which one I’d pick to begin with…” There are countless excuses we can all make on why it is too big an undertaking to take on this challenge.

OK, first off, make a decision right now and empower yourself to own your definition of “playing an instrument”.  Yes, precisely, give yourself permission to define your learning experience with an instrument, chose it, make it, and allow it to be, what you want it to be.  You can decide that playing an instrument is fun, challenging, expressive, easy at times, difficult at times, an everyday thing, an every now and then thing...

Especially for grown ups, if learning something new is getting too tedious and seemingly unfruitful, don’t forget the words of wisdom, “fake it til you make it”. How would a master of the instrument express herself when playing and practicing the artform?  It’s a time-tested, guaranteed formula: spend an incredible amount of time with a thing - anything, and become very “good” at it.

Like learning a language, the process of learning to play an instrument well requires good old fashioned time and practice.  This process for a beginner in the short term can have both daunting & fun points. It can be both loosely structured and intermittently gratifying. In the long term, practice can become something else entirely, like preparing to play with other musicians.  

How to Get Started

The tried and true formula to give some interest a solid chance, in this case a musical instrument,  is to commit to one specific instrument and stick with it for three months. Play and study it three days a week for a minimum of one hour each practice.  Create only a few clear, concise, objectives for your practice session before-hand and supplement your weekly individual practices with a private ½ hour or one hour private lesson with your local instrument teacher.  If money and time are an issue (or convenient excuse) there are an invaluable collection of “how to play” videos on Youtube, made by master-level players and teachers, waiting for you to learn from on your schedule, and for free.  

Buy, borrow, try out, rent, make, play - The sounds and playing of traditional musical instruments are a unique vehicle with which to intimately experience a culture. Three months of following this formula a few times a week will have an effect on your relationship with the  instrument and with yourself. You will have begun to learn the ability of communicating in another language and expressing yourself in a totally new way. This is a huge thing for a human to experience, this is living culture.

Which of these resonates with you? How can additional cultural expression and experience enhance your life?

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