Mike is a retired engineer currently living in Okinawa, Japan, and also one of our regional contributors here at Pocket Cultures. Mike would describe himself not as an “expat” but as a “transplant”. In today’s interview, Mike tells us about his experiences travelling the world and getting to know other cultures and specifically his insight for how to blend and avoid behaving like a “high and mighty foreigner.” And above all, the best advice: listen to Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World.”

Photo credit: Luis Sanchez

Here is Mike’s story, in his words:

At age 17, after graduating high school, I left the farm in upstate New York to travel the world.  My first taste of culture shock came soon afterwards.  People, even in the USA, didn’t know someone from New York could be a farmer. People around the world, at least back in the 60’s, thought everyone from New York lived in a big city!  Hopefully the internet has changed all that.

For 30 years, or so, I traveled the world as an engineer.  I saw wars, peace and natural disasters.  I saw people laughing and people crying, the filthy rich and the filthy poor, five star hotels and people living under bridges or in cardboard boxes.  Culture and language differences aside, anywhere you go in the world, you’ll see children smile.  That stuck with me.  Even in a refugee camp, where they are half starved to death, kids will play and smile.  Somehow, growing up, people get the idea their culture is better than another’s.  It is a big mistake.  No culture is better than any other.

Learning to understand, appreciate and tolerate another culture, everyone else’s culture, would make the world a better place.  So, I contribute to Pocket Cultures.

There’s no such thing as a typical day for me.  I like to start each day with a long walk on the beach with my dogs.  And I prefer being out all day with my cameras.  Then, spending the hours until late at night in front of a computer monitor.  Everything is weather dependent.  Usually, I’m on the computers until way past midnight.  The Japanese call me a cameraman but, computer-man would better describe the work I’m always tied up with.  My work with the cameras is fun.  Time on the computers is work!

My advice to anyone traveling to a foreign land would be to research well in advance. Learn customs, traditions, history and enough of the language to be able to say some common phrases. Know enough about the culture to be able to blend in without appearing to be the high and mighty foreigner. Listen to Louis Armstrong sing What a Wonderful World.  He knew culture.

About the author

Carrie is an American who just moved from Bali to Mendoza, Argentina. Carrie caught the wanderlust bug early on from her parents, who raised her in Mexico City. Carrie and her husband David have lived in New York, London, Barcelona, Costa Rica, Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, and Bali before moving to Mendoza. They are actively working to pass on the travel bug to their young son Timmy, who has already been to twelve countries.