After heavy weeks of academic work and commitments, spring break can be quite cathartic for most college students. Penn has the lowest amount of break days amongst the Ivy League, and many students like to use the week to their full advantage by traveling to exotic destinations. Some return home to spend times with their loved ones. Others stay on campus due to financial limitations and obligations. Regardless of how you spent your spring break, it is important to recognize how social stratification is represented by the drastic differences in how students have different experiences during breaks.
In an attempt to be more “worldly” and well-traveled, college students can often be a nuisance to locals abroad. The tourism industry is especially detrimental to certain countries’ cultural and environmental integrity by tokenizing certain aspects of their culture and ignoring the rest. Penn students should be capable of showing mindfulness and respect in the places they visit during break, so that they are not disruptive to the communities using their massive wealth and privilege. Your spring break plans and to-do’s aren’t more important than people’s cultures.
Traveling can have a lot of benefits and encourage people to immerse themselves in exciting settings and engage with vibrant cultures. But there is a difference between being appreciative of cultures and being ignorant of the harmful effects of your presence.
Additionally, If you’re visiting a country with tumultuous social and environmental issues, I implore you to understand what it means to be a visitor in a place that you will never have to suffer from the social issues its residents must face. Tourists are merely temporary visitors in beautiful cities, islands, and beaches, whereas the wildlife and native inhabitants oftentimes have to suffer from the consequences of spring break parties. This carefree attitude might not seem like a big deal given the short time frame of spring break — but the mindset of not caring about the world around you can be indicative of how you handle being a college student at an elite institution while living in America’s poorest major city.
On that note, there shouldn’t be any assumptions that every Penn student had the opportunity to go anywhere during break. Spring break can actually be a very difficult time for some students, both financially and emotionally. Imagine being Puerto Rican and not being able to visit your home country while seeing many of your peers frivolously rampant it whenever they so desire. College Junior Daniel Gonzalez, who is half Puerto Rican, expressed disappointment seeing how many Penn students will oftentimes ignore the history of oppression and the ongoing suffering from natural disasters in Puerto Rico. It’s not a crime to want to travel to this beautiful location, but it can be vexing if you’re “ignorant and don’t acknowledge the space you’re in or if you become arrogant because workers or the location doesn’t meet your expectations. My culture deserves to be treated with respect,” Gonzalez said.
It’s quite disappointing to see people ignore their racist or discriminatory views in order to freely enjoy ethnic foods without guilt. I’m glad that we can share our cultures through food, music, fashion — but cultural groups should not have to seek your money or approval in order for our existence to be validated. It hasn’t always been the case that diverse food tastes were celebrated and encouraged. In fact, there is a lot of historical racism behind looking down on ethnic foods. You’re not doing anyone any favors by harping on your cultural depth and travel count if you haven’t actually made real efforts to understand a culture in ways beyond how you yourself can benefit from it.
Traveling is truly one of the most fulfilling experiences people can have. But your experience could be even more meaningful if you’re better equipped with mindfulness and social consciousness. Whether it be traveling for leisure, for work, for studying abroad — do your research. Don’t butcher or disrespect someone’s culture just for the sake of your social media clout.
When you’re reflecting on your spring break or making plans in the future, be mindful of your presence and interaction with other cultures. Traveling is an immense privilege and we owe it not only to other communities, but to ourselves, to challenge ourselves not to be blissfully ignorant.
TON NGUYEN is a college junior from Atlanta, Ga. studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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