This spring semester, I am studying abroad in Rome. As part of our core curriculum, we must take a class called At Home in Rome that’s supposed to help us become experts of the city and its life. During the introductory class, my professor said something that really struck me: “You are explorers, not tourists.”
I loved hearing that, but it did make me think… what separates us explorers from tourists? For starters, explorers are curious. We question everything. Why is that building shaped like that? What does that sign mean? To where do those canals lead? We don’t mindlessly walk through places, pointing our cameras at what we are told to point them at, buy keychains, and then leave. Don’t get me wrong, I love taking photos, and I have more souvenirs than I care to admit, but thankfully those are not the only things that I have to remember my trips by. Explorers take home photos, keychains, and unique experiences.
Unique experiences come from observing, engaging and, above all, stepping sometimes into the uncomfortable zone, This is how explorers get to find and create their unique adventures.
Being observant means stepping back, away from the crowd, and just, well… observing. Notice the little things that may be arbitrary, like the graffiti, or the mannerisms of the locals while at restaurants. These little things, often overlooked by tourists, help us get a more detailed idea of a city, its culture, and its people.
Engaging is equally as important. Ask locals for directions. Try the regional foods. Order meals in the local language — even if you mess up! The more you engage with a culture and its people, the more you see and experience. People really appreciate it when you show interest in their cultures and lifestyles. Just think about it: Wouldn’t you like it if someone from a different country made the effort to participate in your culture?
Exploring requires letting go of fears of judgment and preconceptions, as well as allowing yourself to trust and accept yourself.
Being a tourist (I’ve been one many times) is not a negative thing at all. But, being an explorer is definitely more challenging and rewarding. Practice being an explorer — even if it’s in your own city. Carry a journal around and jot down observances, take photos of things that catch your attention, push yourself to engage with the locals. There is so much to see, learn, and experience in our world. So, here’s to all our future adventures and lessons as explorers!