How to explore new cultures while quarantined

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A hot air balloon floats over London. Many students study abroad programs were canceled after the outbreak of the coronavirus. Professor Monte Swain says there are still ways for these students to experience other cultures without leaving the country. (David Mirzoeff/PA via AP)

Glassy blue and white coasters sit on Monte Swain’s dining room table in his suburban Utah home, a seemingly far off momento of past adventures abroad. The coasters display the same marble inlay artwork used on the Taj Mahal walls built in the 17th century. Marble inlay was perfected by the Mughal artisans, a delicate process that involves carefully cutting and engraving marble shapes by hand. Swain has held on to these prized souvenirs for their beauty and the memories attached to them from past trips to India. 

In today’s climate of social distancing and shelter-at-home orders, college students may believe opportunities to personally study foreign cultures and interact with locals abroad have slipped beyond their grasp. While it may not be the right time to book a flight, Swain believes students can listen and learn from those who have traveled to distant lands to prepare for future adventures. 

Swain, a BYU accounting professor, has traveled abroad to multiple countries with BYU students and family over the years. Swain’s favorite location he has traveled to is Jordan. “The most memorable part of Jordan is the Jordanians themselves,” Swain said. “A wonderful Muslim people.”

“It’s an orthodox religion, and they are so gracious and gentle,” Swain said. He visited during Ramadan, the annual month of fasting and spiritual contemplation amongst Muslims. Swain said he found that the people who were in the middle of fasting were “delightful.”

Although he is currently unable to visit countries in person, Swain’s adventurous spirit has not been contained during the quarantine.

The sandy landscape and geography of Utah reminds Swain of certain parts of Jordan. Swain said that Utah is home to diverse landscapes and some of the most beautiful outdoor destinations in the world. He feels these landscapes are experienced best by immersing oneself through hiking rather than driving by.

Given the current climate, Swain offered some options ― outside of physical traveling overseas ― to enhance a student’s studies and interests abroad. With BYU study abroad programs canceled this spring and summer term, Swain said to “take advantage of your surroundings.”

This includes taking a road trip, hiking through parts of Utah and simplifying vacations to a day trip. Swain clearly has taken the BYU motto “The World is our Campus” to heart. 

Many students have already posted expeditions across the state during the quarantine. Keeping groups small, maintaining social distancing and ensuring everyone is healthy before going is essential.

BYU student Alec Hales has been traveling during the quarantine, but he’s taken certain precautions to stay safe.

“Sanitize everything. When I’m traveling across Utah, I bring wipes to use when we touch anything. Bring hand sanitizer.”

While rock climbing in Big Bear, California, Hales makes sure to stay six feet apart from anyone else on the hiking trails. “I would go crazy if I couldn’t get outside,” Hales said. He has visited Idyllwild, the beaches in Oceanside and different parts of Utah in the past few weeks.

The CDC recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential international travel, but that doesn’t mean domestic travel is risk free. When traveling within the country, individuals should be aware if COVID-19 is spreading to their destination and if they or their travel companion(s) will be in close contact with others during the trip. The CDC recommends individuals at a higher risk of severe illness do not travel.

Another quarantine-approved option may be to explore different countries and cities digitally. By using online resources and exploring multiple cities and countries, students will be prepared for future journeys in less restrictive times.

“You can follow an itinerary online and drive yourself around a location on your computer,” Swain said. “While in online classes, take advantage of online resources.”

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