One of my favourite quotes is, “You don’t know shit until you’re 30.” I think it speaks volumes in life lessons. I am now 25 and when I think of myself at 18 or even 22 it amazes me how much I’ve changed. How naive I was and how clueless I still am. It makes me think of how you experience or witness certain things – an exposure to something new that changes your thought process and your outlook on life; extreme challenge, love, trauma, acceptance, heartbreak – and to some extent you grow up.
One thing I see where most Americans are lacking is our exposure to how big and vast the world really is. The sheer number of people, cultures, different ways of doing things, is mind boggling! As a result many countries label Americans as “ignorant.” And Americans take “ignorant” as an insult rather than a criticism. We shoot back that all those other people are just jealous of our freedom and dismiss any need for improvement. So what does it mean to be exposed to the world? While I don’t consider myself a worldy man like James Bond or the Dos Equis guy I consider 3 continents a general rule of thumb (if you want to understand how considerable the world is).
How long do you stay? I recommend 1-6 months, a year if you can get away that long (I know its hard). Visiting a country for 2 weeks is like a foreigner staying in Orlando, Florida for a week and thinking he’s “Seen America.” North America and South America are two different continents, Central America doesn’t count. While you can visit 12 different countries backpacking through Western Europe, you’re better off visiting several different continents.
You can’t say you’re an adult at 30, but you can assume by 30 years old you will endure several transformations that make you more and more mature. But one place many of us lack maturity is in the worldy exposure transformation, and you can only get that from experiencing culture shock.