One of the many misconceptions that has been fostered thanks to years of colonial rule is that Latin America is in some way “behind” Europe – that the European way of life is more advanced, more developed, more civilised, less dangerous, and the list goes on.
The most perfect way of breaking through these prejudices, these uninformed rumours, is to travel to Latin America for yourself and see what this supposedly “poor” continent has to offer, how it is organised and the positive effect it can have on your life.
It’s definitely worth noting that Latin America is perhaps affected more by the U.S. than it is by Europe. The number of educational exchange programs which exist between the U.S. and Latin America outweigh those between Europe and Latin America. The two continents share many T.V. programs through cable television, the brands of products on the supermarket shelves are normally from The States and not from Europe, for example.
When bearing this in mind, it seems to be even more important that Europeans take the opportunity, if they have it, to cross the ocean and visit this incredible continent. The more we share, the more we understand and the less we buy into “hear-say” sold to us via Chinese whispers and stereotypes which are long out of date.
Here’s six reasons why Europeans should visit Latin America…
1. Note the cultural differences
There are many cultural customs that Latin Americans and Europeans, surprisingly, have in common, but there are also a lot of differences between the two. These differences make the experience a rich one – there’s lots to learn and gain from a trip to Latin America. Depending on where you visit, you might experience what it’s like to live the “siesta” every day, to make time to have lunch with family (irrespective of work commitments) and you might develop a real taste for particular food and drink, like “mate” in Argentina.
Learning to greet someone with a kiss on the cheek might not be so strange for an Italian or a French traveler, but for a Brit, the idea (particularly between men when visiting Argentina) might take some getting used to. In some parts of Latin America, you might have to get used to not heading out to party until 11pm or midnight. Again, this might not seem so strange if you’re Spanish, but Germans might find the whole experience very different. Taking yourself out of your comfort zone is one of the most rewarding elements of a trip to Latin America for Europeans.
2. Open your mind and experience other realities
Visiting Latin America is a great way of demystifying prejudices held about this young continent. Some uninformed people believe that Latin America is full of people who live in caves or shacks. This kind of ignorance has been and continues to be incredibly insolent and cruel. The most valuable act is to visit the country to see for yourself what the real realities are on the other side of the Atlantic. Without a doubt, Latin Americans are very different to Europeans, because the reality that they live in is that of the “day to day.” They live in the present, not in the future – mainly because the future is far too unpredictable owing to unreliable economies and instable political rules.
It’s also interesting for Europeans to visit a continent in which what seems logical or obvious is not always what gets the green light – they’re not the things which govern or which are accepted as “the rules under which one must live and abide by”. Despite these sometimes infuriating situations – those in which the logical is ignored and the illogical is employed – Latin Americans brush things off, laugh through it and push forward with seemingly endless motivation. Life in Latin America is all about confronting the struggles head on – particularly as most countries suffer from centralisation which continues to squash the quality of life in areas outside of the capital.
3. Help, support and devote your time to a project
It’s important to make it clear that Europe isn’t devoid of problems and troubled demographics to support. Underage drinking, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and a lack of environmental consciousness present issues which need to be dealt with in the lives of Europeans. However, there are many areas of life in Latin America which need support. Abortion remains illegal in a number of Latin American countries and there are organisations in need to volunteers every day.
There are many projects to help provide educational opportunities for children who live in deprived areas. There are lots of conservationist groups and projects in Latin America which need help explaining to the general public the disastrous effects of poorly discarded rubbish on the environment. The list goes on. There’s a project or experience to meet everyone’s interests. It’s a simple question on investigating to find out where your help might be best received.
4. Share your experiences of life in Europe with those you meet in Latin America
One of the best things Europeans can do when they visit Latin America is to share their experiences of life in Europe with the people that they meet. It’s important that Europeans squash the idea that everything in Europe works like a dream, whilst everything in Latin America does nothing but fall apart. Even though Europe may have basic issues covered, thanks to a more stable political situation, the reality is that Europe suffers from problems just like anywhere else and it’s important to share this reality with those who live in Latin America and don’t have the opportunity to travel and find out for themselves.
One of the saddest facts about our world is that whether we live in Argentina, Spain, the UK or Chile, too many young people yearn for and cry over not having the latest iPhone. Capitalism has infected society’s outlook on life, the world over, and it’s important that the communities within Latin America recognise that in many ways Europeans are no closer to finding happiness and tranquility in life.
5. Experience what it feels like to be in Latin America for the first time
It’s worth visiting Latin America just to find out if it’s what you had imagined it to be. It’s always best to see and experience things first-hand than to hear about them from others or read about them in a book. You might be really surprised by what you find when you land on Latin American soil for the first time. You might have been expecting something very visually different and your preconceptions of the continent might be blown away within the first few hours.
6. Realize that Latin America has a lot to offer you
Latin America is a continent which leaves the visit truly moved and perplexed by its natural beauty. Mexico and Guatemala offer some of the most inspiring pyramid sites on earth. Machu Picchu in Peru is one of the most fascinating Inca cities to pierce the skies with its pre-colonial structures. Brazil is difficult to beat when it comes to beaches – Copacabana and Salvador de Bahia being two of the favourites cited by many tourists and natives alike.
When visiting Chile or Argentina, it would be foolish to leave the sites of Torre del Paine off of your list and Buenos Aires is, without a doubt, one of the most spectacular cities in Latin America for coffee shop culture, award-winning restaurants, underground theatre experiences and a bohemian approach to life from dusk until dawn. Colombia is blessed with beautiful forests, Ecuador boasts animal treasures on The Galapagos Islands and if you haven’t tried a Venezuelan arepa, you really haven’t lived at all.
Having said all that, the real gem in Latin America – the real jewel in the crown – is its people. The warmth that Latin Americans offer to their loved ones, and visitors that they have only just met, is unequalled around the globe. If there’s only one reason to visit Latin America that you take from the many in this article, it would really have to be this one… the Latin American people make a visit to this continent the most unforgettable and positive experience of a lifetime.
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