When it comes to learning about other cultures, anyone who is well traveled will tell you the best way to go about doing so is to completely immerse yourself.
To do that, you would need to obtain a passport, hop on a plane there and live and breathe the culture for at least a week.
Unfortunately due to the state of the world today, that is currently not much of an option.
Even if there wasn’t a world-wide pandemic taking place, traveling is still not a viable option for most people. Unless you have a limitless flow of cash and plenty of vacation time to take off work, traveling isn't always feasible.
I was fortunate growing up to have close friends who came from other parts of the world. My two best friends were from New Zealand and Puerto Rico.
I loved spending the night at their homes because I got to listen to their families tell fascinating stories of what life was like back home. And, for me as a hungry youngster, I would get especially excited for mealtime because it was oftentimes a dish prepared from their culture.
My culture curiosity stuck with me. I still crave the knowledge of exploring other countries. I enjoy watching videos of people from other countries explaining the day-to-day differences of where they live in comparison to the United States.
One of my more recent favorite channels on YouTube is Cecilia Blomdahl, who discusses what it’s like living in Svalbard. Svalbard, for those who may not know, is the northernmost inhabited place in the world and is about 650 miles from the North Pole.
Because of how far distanced they are from the rest of the world, not one person there has tested positive for COVID-19. Sounds like the best place to be right about now.
Since I cannot travel to Svalbard or really anywhere else at the moment, there is still a way to get a taste — literally — of other cultures.
For the past couple years, my family has subscribed to Universal Yums, which is a monthly subscription of snacks mailed from around the world.
There are three tiers of box levels, but we opted for the cheapest level at $15 per box, which includes 5-7 snacks and a 12-page guidebook with historical information, trivia and interactive games.
This column is on its way to sounding just like a paid sponsorship, but I can assure you it is not.
We have tried snacks from several countries, the most recent including Italy, Russia, Egypt, Colombia, Thailand, Philippines, Scandinavia, Brazil, France, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom.
No, a box of snacks doesn't compare to visiting the country itself, not even close, but it's still a fun way to be introduced to the culture. And, it costs pennies compared to the expenses of actually traveling there.
It's fun to see what other people in the world snack on. Our children should know there is a great big world that extends beyond Cheetos and Skittles.
And, if you are like most modern households where face-to-face interaction has been replaced with staring at phones and tablets, this is a clever way to have everyone to sit together for something fun and educational.
For my family, we always approach the box by first reading the provided history and taking the culture quizzes.
For instance, did you know there are bright pink dolphins in Colombia? Were you aware most ketchup in the Philippines is made from bananas? And did you know Thailand is the only country in the world home to waterfall-climbing fish?
Learning this information will then oftentimes lead us to researching more on that country and taking in other interesting facts about it.
Many of the snacks have pleasantly surprised us with its flavors and others have downright appalled us. We don’t mind the gross ones because they make the whole experience that much more fun.
It may sound silly, but these monthly snack boxes have really taught us quite a bit and we plan to continue receiving these as long as they’re available.
Taking the time to learn about other cultures is beneficial in many ways. It’s stimulating, keeps us open-minded, fosters a level of understanding and empathy, and it no doubt makes us smarter.
So the next time you’re shopping for your family’s snacks, perhaps you should consider trying something new and check out Universal Yums.
Catherine Kirk is the managing editor of the Delta Democrat-Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.