Preparing for the unknown

Alyssa Cleland
Alyssa Cleland

Editor’s note: This is one of a series of posts by students from Michigan State University in the U.S. and LUANAR University in Malawi who participated in the Frugal Innovations Program of the Global Center for Food Systems Innovation.

By Alyssa Cleland

One eight-hour flight down, one 8 hour flight and one 4 hour flight to go. With all this traveling, we’ve got plenty of time to think. I’ve come to the conclusion that I really don’t know what to expect in Malawi, and I’m ok with that. I’d like to think I can sort of picture what it will look like, but in the past while traveling abroad, my expectations don’t often match reality.

That’s the cool thing about going across the globe to a place you’ve never been; there’s no way to really prepare yourself completely. Sure, you hear stories from people or look stuff up online, but none of that compares to actually being there. You’re going to experience culture shock and you’re going to be surprised by things you never would have considered, like no toilet paper or silverware, or so I’ve been told.
I’m going into this with a completely open mind. The most important thing I’ve learned while traveling in the past is to be adaptable. It can be difficult to see see and understand something totally different from what you’re used to, and it’s tempting to make judgements and assumptions. But traveling and seeing and experiencing different cultures helps you to realize how much people are influenced by where and how they grew up.
People are often raised with certain beliefs, and they adapt with the way of life around them. That’s all they know. It’s not different for me. I can’t deny that I would probably be a totally different person had I grown up somewhere else.  I look forward to seeing differences because I’ve learned to appreciate them. Differing values and ways of life are so intriguing to me, and learning about what environmental and cultural aspects influence the way people think and act is really interesting. To get the most out of your experience in an unfamiliar area, you should be open to understanding and experiencing things that may seem bizarre to you. Seeing differing values and lifestyles makes me reexamine my own values and beliefs, and I feel so fortunate to be able to travel and experience something totally unfamilar.

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