During my summer backpacking trip through Europe, my friend and I met some very interesting people on train from Switzerland to Italy. We met women from Australia who had seen more of America than we had, two women from Bali who were attending college in Sweden, and a couple on their honeymoon.
My favorite encounter was with a middle aged Italian man who conducts an all-male church choir. We rode the train with him from Milan to Sestri Levante, Italy. He told us about traveling around Europe with his choir and his trips to the Italian coast when he was a boy. He spoke fantastic English! When I asked him where he learned English, he explained that he taught himself the language by listening to American music. I then asked him how I could teach myself Italian. He took a long pause and said, “to learn Italian you must contaminate yourself with Italian food, drink and sea”.
He was right! After spending all day in the Mediterranean Sea, enjoying fresh pesto, and sipping a glass of lemoncino you will be fluent in the language of love.
I found his advice to be true with every country I went to. To really experience a culture, it’s not about visiting all of the tourist sites. As corny as it sounds, be sure to take time in your stay to confidently get lost in a city! Order the strangest sounding dish and try something new. Don’t always order spaghetti and pizza in Italy. There are so many more flavors to try. Don’t go to the most popular beach, walk a mile further and find yourself a quiet local cove.
No matter where you are, don’t forget to take chances. Even in your sleepy little town you should try something new and ‘contaminate’ yourself with your surroundings.
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