In my few tours around the world, I have realized the important role that many countries allocate to culture on tourism. For this reason, tourist destinations are full of the cultural dimension of the people in that destination. In fact, a tourism tour is incomplete without aspects of culture. Tourism often, therefore, remains the most viable method of learning the cultures of other people since you get the first-hand experience of the culture, interact with the people whose culture you are studying, compare every aspect of their culture with your own and learn even information that is undocumented about their culture.
The constructivist dimension of culture approaches culture from an identity perspective. It argues that the best way to understand culture would be to let give his identity. Some people will identify with their race, others with their religion, while others still will identify themselves by their names, social class, occupation or gender. It however argues that in this respect, culture is best defined in terms of perceptions and ideas rather than appearance and location. For this reason, the constructivist view prompts the individuals answer to a more social form of the same question, “Who are we?”
It would be rather difficult to get this question answered from far. It would instead require one to be at the scene when this question is being answered. This way one gets the full information and if necessary gets a chance to ask questions. Culture is not only learned in this form, it is also internalized. Before visiting France, I had always associated the French culture with the architecture, Cuisine and fashion that is often associated with Paris. When I went there, however, I came face to face with the more prominent cultures that are etched on the people outside Paris. I learned about the different tribes that occupy France and the different languages and accents that are associated with them.
Three major aspects of culture according to the constructivist dimension of culture include stories of origin, norms and the use of symbols. Symbols are often used by social groups to give them a sense of belonging. One form of symbols is the use of flags which are used many types of social groups from religious organizations to nations. Tourism has often been the best way for me to understand these forms of culture. Above just identifying these symbols, tourism also gives the individual a chance to understand how closely a group guards their culture. On a visit to Kenya, a country in East Africa, I learned how the Maasais guard their culture. They still remain the most cultural community in Kenya. Amongst their most widely used symbols is their mode of dressing which is most usually red in color and unique among the rest of the population. There are so many things that cannot be learnt about the use of symbols for identification without direct interaction with the people whose culture you are studying. The symbols are often used for other uses other than just display. For this reason, it is often necessary for one to take the role of a tourist and interact with these individuals for further comprehension.
Another aspect of culture in the constructionist view is the stories of origin. These stories are often passed from one generation top another. As culture changes, these stories also change. As time moves, substance is added to the stories to make them make more sense to the community. Often, the person who chooses to learn culture from the book point of view often misses the changes. He may only get the chance to learn the culture of a people as it is or he may be learning about a culture than no longer exists. This way, the student misses the main purpose for studying culture, which is to understand the whole difference between people, the reasons why they change and how they change.
Whenever I visit a foreign land, I get a chance to learn the history of a culture so well that I am able to tell where a group is headed in the next few years. This is because in such cases, I use their forms of literature and art and see how they have evolved with time. A tourist does not only learn about others, he meets people who want to share their own story once again and these are usually a happy and hospitable lot. Tourists also get to hear the story fast hand and benefit from those aspects of a story that cannot be put to book like sign language, gestures and body language.
Another aspect of culture in the constructivist dimension is the social norms. These are unwritten rules of conduct that are used in a community. Being unwritten these rules don’t move outside that community. In my interaction with other communities, I have had opportunities to learn about their norms first hand. I learn them through association and finding situations in which the rules apply. This way, I understand a people’s culture better.
Another reason why culture is best learnt in the role of a tourist is that a tourist meets with multiple forms of culture. A tourist engages himself in different levels of culture including political culture, social culture, heritage and ethnic culture. He however does not try hard to get exposed to these aspects of culture; instead, it happens while he is in his tour.
Whenever I arrive at a tourist destination, I try to measure the level of hospitality in this area. I compare myself to the people and understand them better. Acts of hospitality may not seem welcoming in some communities but with understanding, one gets to learn why people are the way they are. The exposure also helps to melt the differences between the tourist and the hosting community and makes them better able to share different aspects of their cultures.
As a tourist, I also weigh the atmosphere of the political culture in a country. While student only learn what certain people want taught, I get full exposure to this aspect of culture. A tourist often gets the news from the people involved so that he understands, when situations are bad, how bad it can get. A tourist who visits a country immediately after conflict finds the tension still high. If he is seen as a neutral party, he is at a good enough position to tell the causes of the conflict and probable ways to resolve them. Immediately when the situation of the Islamic revolution had cooled down enough after the Islamic revolution of 2011, I visited Egypt and learned this first hand as a tourist.
However, it is not always that tourism results in positive change. Sometimes, communities may see a tourist as an enemy and hence approach him with caution. In my visit to Egypt, I learned that some people attributed the conflict to the West. Such people often seemed unresponsive to questions that sought to demystify their conflict. This way, some locals only offered information they deemed inconsequential, or shunned giving information altogether. Where information was offered, it was offered as a way to tap the resources that tourists brings in the community. In such cases, I felt like I was not only failing but also risking my own security as an individual.
However, regardless of the challenges that may be met by a tourist who wishes to learn about other cultures, I feel that these challenges can be resolved. First, tourism companies should be asked to take the tourists only to communities that are going to be welcoming. This way, conflict will be avoided and communities are will only offer truthful information. Second, the pretense attire is only worn for a limited amount of time. A tourist who wishes to learn about the cultures in a certain community should be willing to spend time with them long enough for them to resume their real cultural behavior.
In conclusion, many aspects of a culture are often best learnt through association and interaction. A person who, therefore, wishes to learn these aspects should be willing to go an extra mile and visit the suspect communities. By visiting, both the community and the tourists stand to benefit. The tourists get a chance to learn, while the community learns and earns in dues paid. Tourists also get involved in cultural activities and therefore make it harder to forget. Finally, all the different aspects of culture affect the tourists and they in turn identify ways they could assist where applicable. Winding up, culture is best learned through interaction. It is easiest to interact with a community’s culture as a tourist.
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