Travel Abroad – Street Art As Cultural Bridge

Street Art - Moganshan Lu in Shanghai China

 

Street art can be a window into the culture of any area

As I’ve quoted before, only about 10% of American students study abroad and maybe about 30% of Americans hold passports. Those numbers are extremely low, but I got to thinking about how the people who actually do go abroad spend their time. What do they get from the experience other than the “been there, done that” satisfaction of checking off the experience on some list they have in their mind?

Many travelers visit overseas locations as part of a tour or otherwise guided experience. While these do have their pluses — such as security, common language, and the historical or informational perspective of the tour guide — they are lacking in the ability to get out there and meet the locals and see things that may have a more lasting impression than what the tour guide shared about the history of a famous building, square, or statue. Not that these are bad things to see or to know, but for me the purpose of travel is to gain a better understanding of the people through their art, culture, food and daily life. After all, the world is growing smaller every day.

“Learning how to interact with people from other countries and cultures equips future leaders in all sectors to address urgent issues — from curing diseases and finding energy solutions, to fighting terrorism and hunger — shared across borders.” – NY Times Room For Debate October 17, 2013

You aren’t going to get any of the above from being on a tour or simply sitting in a classroom. You need to get out among people to understand and accept them.

Whether you are working or studying abroad or just traveling, one thing I think is invaluable is looking at a culture through its art, particularly its contemporary art. Contemporary art is about protesting the status quo, messages about [the] society and its [changing] culture. Street art is an effective way of communicating with people en masse. Its colorful appearance, strange characters and bold writing are so effective at communicating that you can now find street art at malls, galleries and online as well as on brands and products. Hotels and restaurants have commissioned street artists to decorate their interiors while some companies have hired street artists to design their product advertisements. Street art is becoming mainstream. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that it isn’t still a great way to learn about a place.

Shanghai Street Art - Moganshan LuIf this idea intrigues you, go to Map the Walls. This is a great way to find out where in the world you can find street art installations and learn about the artist and the art.

Whether you are an arm-chair traveler or actual one, it’s one way to learn about another culture, learn about yourself and maybe, just maybe help another person learn about your culture!

 

Further reading:

Bangkok Post: Rise of Street Art in Bangkok

The New York Times: The Cost of Not Studying Abroad is Real

Author: Beth Parker

Mother of 3 teens (one off to college this coming fall). Recently relocated to Blacksburg, VA from Shanghai, China where we spent 4 years. I am TEFL certified and currently host English Conversation Groups and privately teach English as a second language. I love travel writing and photography.

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