A Lifetime of Cultural Adventures

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“Born to travel” seems like the best way to describe Mario. If it’s visiting family or winning a trip to Japan, Mario has seen a variety of countries and places. Read about his cultural adventures and some tips on how to start your own journey.

Mario has moved around most of his life.Born in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, at about three months old his family moved to Worcester, Massachusetts and then moved back to Puerto Rico when Mario was in the fourth grade. From there, it was moving to Orlando, Florida and then finally to the hometown in Bethlehem,  Pennsylvania where he lived about 13 years. As you can probably guess, Mario didn’t stay put in one spot. It’s been a cultural adventure and Mario shares his experiences with International Student Voice.

The Beginning of a Journey

My name is Mariano L. Garcia and I am a resident of Astoria, New York. I am a recent graduate of Queens College with a bachelor of arts degree in east Asian studies. Throughout my married life in Akron, Ohio and New York, I’ve had my share of international experience, travel, and culture.  In 2003 my wife and I participated in our first ‘Around the World Party’ at The University of Akron. The party was a gathering of different cultures from around the world in one night.  Anything from New Zealand’s ‘Hakka’, to Japan’s ‘Sakura Blossom Dance’, to the Polish ‘Swan Dance’, to a Romanian folk song were presented.  These events helped begin my interest in cultures from all around the world especially those in Japanese culture.  I made friends from different nations that evening in celebration of the school’s culture tradition.

In 2004 I visited my brother-in-law in British Columbia, Canada; a change of pace in an environment different than what I’m used to.  The people and behavior were completely different than what I had been used to.  Even though it was a short visit, people there were nice and respectable.

In 2007 we went to Landeck, Austria for a volunteer opportunity, then to Bucharest, Romania.  This was the first time I had flown to another continent.  Our first stop was in Heathrow, United Kingdom, where my wife and I spent a couple of hours sightseeing, while waiting for our flight.   In Austria, some students from around Europe came to do volunteer work to rebuild the roof of a hut in the Alps.  Many of the volunteers did not share a common language but the work ethic spoke loudly of the comradeship. Afterwards went to Bucharest where I got to visit my in-laws and see where my wife grew up. The total amount of time for the whole trip was about two weeks.  Even though some of the parties that traveled didn’t understand much of the others given language, the experiences shared were memorable.

In 2007 we moved from Ohio to New York with the help of friends. New York life has been like the internet ‘information superhighway’. After getting enrolled in a CUNY community college, making international friends became easier.

Don’t Speak Japanese? No problem

In 2008 I was lucky enough to win a round-trip ticket to Japan. A Japanese Bookstore in Manhattan moved its store from Rockefeller Center to across the street from Byrant Park.  Since they did a grand reopening, they offered a sweepstakes drawing and the first prize were business class tickets round trip to Japan.  I placed my name and email in the box and by the end of the week they sent me a confirmation winner email.

The start of my cultural journey, I finally got the chance to explore about Japanese culture first hand.  The culture here is different than any I have ever been at before. Even the attitude there was completely serene. The people here are very humble and willing to help even a stranger from another country to get around.  The feeling I got was that everything around me was neat, clean and organized.   There are no visible signs of cut throat competition, unlike the United States.  The people are willing to go out of their way to help you in whatever you need done.

I did not have too much of a culture shock, because I have studied and read how the culture is in Japan.  Plus I knew enough of the Language to get around.  The feeling i got was that everything around me was neat, clean and organized.  Even the attitude there was completely serene.  There is no visible signs of cut throat competition. Unlike here in the states.  The people are willing to go out of their way to help you in whatever you need done.

I first went to Gunma, North of Tokyo to visit my friend’s father, which was the first time I ever met him.  He introduced me to his home, showed me around his area in the mountains.  Plus helped me a little in my Japanese studies.  Then I went to Kyoto to visit another friend whom we have not seen in six years.  Then off to Tokyo for the rest of my stay. The taste of the food there was very fresh, simple foods that don’t take a lot of time to prepare.  The service everywhere I went was very good, fast, and well mannered.  You could smell like you were either close to the sea of close to the mountains.  The food is in small portions to control everyones weight and appetite.

All my experiences in Japan were great.  If I had to pick one, I would say it was my day trip to Amanohashidate in Tango Prefecture Mario sight-seeingJapan.  I left early morning to catch the local train to this area.  I really needed to speak Japanese out there, because five stops after leaving Kyoto there are no more English signs.  Everything is in Japanese and my level was way too low to comprehend it.  As a memo, every town’s train station has signs of what the name of the town is, plus it has a blown up map of the area.  So as the train moved to its next location, I pulled out my camera to take pictures of course. However, it was crucial to take pictures of the signs.  If I got lost I could use the pictures as cookie crumbs to find my way back if I was not going in the right direction.  Thankfully we were going in the right direction.When we got there the scenery  in the area is very nice lots of mountains  and plenty of water to see.  The food was exquisite and cheap.  A full course meal cost about six dollars to the most expensive 24 dollars.  As my day was coming to a close I could have stayed there to see the night life, but I had to get back to the hotel in Kyoto because local trains stop running at certain times. No sense in paying for two hotels.  My train was third to last that was leaving the station.  Because the area is secluded in the urban area, on the train schedule the next train would come every two hours depending on train traffic.  So on the train I pulled out my trusty camera and scrolled back to the pictures of the stations I took earlier. I kept a watchful eye on which stations  I have passed while on the train to make sure they were on my camera.  It was about a four hour long trip to get back to Kyoto.  The train kept its pace and we encountered all the stations that we passed by earlier.

As the Journey Continues…

In my experience and travels the places where we visited had people who respected your privacy, appreciated your company and asked questions about the others origins.  We shared different ideals and customs, which would have never happened if we did  not get a chance to hear about it from the international school clubs. People can find different opportunities by visiting new places, similar to the way I did. Making an effort to speak the language of the visiting country only makes the experience much more memorable.  Also making new friends who can introduce new ideas and places where they have never seen before.

Start Your Own Journey

If you would like to travel, here are some tips to get you started. Just by reading Mario’s article, you can see he followed these steps and it lead to a great experience while he visited Japan.

1. Learn as much as you can about the country you want to visit, such as holidays, traditions, etc.It will come in handy and help you understand the people around you.Mario studied Japanese culture, but earning a degree in a specific culture isn’t necessary. It just requires some research!

2. Take a chance and make new friends. You never know where a new relationship might take you. Start in your classes or at a job.

3. Try to avoid comparing the new country to your home country. It’s not going to be the same! Make the most of the experience and learn how others cope with the situation.

4. Going along with number three, try to keep an open mind. Food is a prime example. Just try it and find out what kind you like and what you don’t like. Or even listening to new music. Once you get used to the culture, the less stressful it will be.

5. It’s not completely necessary, but learning the language can help make your experience even better. Not knowing the language can create a barrier and unintentionally make you feel isolated. Even if you learn common sayings or expressions, it’s a start.

6. Don’t judge others because you don’t understand. You really shouldn’t even do that in your home country, but especially not in a country new to you. People will do things you don’t understand, so take the opportunity to think and not judge.


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