Studying abroad, and traveling in general, demonstrates how globalization continues to increase around the world. As we saw in the Travels of a T-shirt documentary, children in Africa are wearing clothing from Europe and America. You see large national corporations spreading across borders. You see technology changing the way that we communicate across borders. All around us, you can see that the world appears to becoming smaller and smaller.
Globalization can be a wonderful thing, but it also comes with several drawbacks, that can sometimes be overlooked. Being a business major we talk so much about how globalization affects the economy and business environment. We briefly touch on some of the cultural effects but we don’t usually give them nearly as much thought. My experience studying abroad has exposed me to various rewards and consequences of the cultural side of globalization.
Numerous times throughout my time studying abroad I have asked the question: is our planet becoming too homogenous? I must admit, it is nice to be able to travel almost anywhere in Europe and be able to speak English and get around, but I also wonder if local culture is being preserved. Language is one of the defining factors of a culture and it is important to not lose that piece of cultural identity.
Since I am most familiar with American culture it is easiest to see the influence it has in different areas. When I arrived in Switzerland I was surprised to hear that the majority of cars passing by were playing American music. During my stay in a hotel in Lithuania I shocked to see how many channels were showing American television. As I walked down the street in Latvia I did not expect to see so many American
companies. I have sometimes felt as though the presence of the U.S. is inescapable in Europe. It seems like everywhere I turn there is some aspect of home. I kept contemplating how our influence is affecting other cultures. Does the presence we have in these countries take away from the authentic national heritage? Should there really be a McDonalds right across the street from a national monument?
This is a question that I have grappled with and continue to consider with every new place that I go. I often think of the U.S. in the negative sense as though we are invading an area, but this is often not the case. Many countries are excited to have some American business or industrial influence. As we saw in the documentary, many of the African natives noted the positive aspects of the U.S. They see it as a place of freedom and democracy, where you can make a life for yourself and fulfill your dreams.
For the most part, I haven’t found the presence of the States to be too overwhelming and most places I have traveled seem to be able to keep their national identity even with some American presence. I do fear that in the future there will be an increasing rate of homogenization. As technology improves, we communicate more rapidly, and we increase our mobility,
I imagine that the preservation of national culture will become even more of a hot topic. Getting to experience the unique culture in all the different places you go is the best part of traveling and I hope that every effort is made to continue heritage and traditions.