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When Traveling, ‘Go with the Culture,’ Says Rick Steves

Rick Steves
Renowned travel expert Rick Steves enthused about the value of travel in an exhilarating talk and Q&A with President Steven R. DiSalvo, Ph.D.
By: Sarah Sweeney

Rick Steves, who built his business and brand around the joys of exploring Europe, shocked the Endicott College audience on Thursday (March 2) by confessing that India is his favorite country. 

“It rearranges my cultural furniture and wallops my confidence from an ethnocentric point of view,” he said. “And it just gets me out of my comfort zone.” 

But in a Cleary Lecture Hall discussion with President Steven R. DiSalvo, Ph.D., Steves, the debut guest speaker in the inaugural Presidential Speaker Series, was most definitely in his comfort zone effusing about his passion for travel and its advantages. The series was made possible by a generous commitment from Arlene Battistelli ’60.

Steves has created an international life with something of a cult following. The founder of Rick Steves’ Europe, a travel enterprise anchored by the popular PBS show of the same name, Steves visited Endicott in back-to-back appearances; the first, originally geared for the Endicott community, opened to the public after high demand resulted in a sold-out public event.  

His visit comes during a time when more and more Endicott students are choosing to study abroad—a critical part of the College’s overall mission to foster global citizens and the raison d’etre of Rick Steves’ Europe, too. 

“Our mission is to inspire and equip people to venture beyond Orlando,” he quipped. 

Steves’ resounding message to the Endicott community was: Study abroad and don’t think twice. 

While well-traveled destinations like Madrid and Florence draw throngs of students each year, other destinations like Cork, Ireland, offer a robust $5,000 scholarship and included roundtrip airfare. But no matter where students elect to study or intern abroad, Steves encouraged embracing the unknown and the unfamiliar.

“A lot of people try to avoid culture shock. Culture shock is a constructive thing. It’s the growing pains of a broadening perspective,” he said. “I was thinking about the places you’re going in Europe, and you can go to Italy, where you can look into the eyes of David and really understand what humanism is as our society was coming out of the Middle Ages. You can go to Italy and you can learn what spaghetti and pasta are supposed to taste like, and you can go to Italy and learn that there was a time when the word Rome did not mean the city, but the entire civilized world.”

Even with financial incentives to study abroad at select locations, for many students, it’s the fear of missing out—FOMO—that keeps them at the Nest. 

“Students say, ‘Well, if I go abroad, I’m going to miss out next semester on what’s happening on campus,’” said President DiSalvo. “And it might be sporting events … there might be cultural events happening. How do you respond to those students who say, I just don’t want to go because I'm afraid of missing out?”

Rick Steves with Endicott President Steven R. DiSalvo, Ph.D.

For Steves, the answer was easy: “I've spent a hundred days a year in Europe living out of a 9x22x14 inch carry-on airplane-sized suitcase every year—except for two years of COVID—since I was 18 years old. And I wouldn’t trade one of those days for another day at home.”

While traveling, Steves said he works very hard to be a “cultural chameleon.” 

“It’s almost like I change physically,” he said. “I don’t care about chocolate here—I care about chocolate when I’m in Belgium, though, because that’s the world’s best chocolate. When I crossed the border from Switzerland into France as a tour guide, one of my favorite things to do is inflict escargot on every person. You must have one escargot. I don’t care if you don’t like it. You don’t need to like it. If you haven’t tried it in France, you don’t know what it is.”

Steves continued: “You need to go with the culture. That’s what a good traveler does! A good traveler, also, with the help of your teachers and your professors and the people involved in your foreign study program, help you bring an understanding to what you’re going to be looking at.”

Steves began traveling when he was 14, and somewhat begrudgingly. “I would have never traveled but my dad, who was a piano teacher, started to import pianos from Germany. He said, ‘I’m going go to Europe and see the piano factories. And I thought, ‘That’s a stupid idea. I want to stay home with my friends.’”

But for Steves, it’s making friends while traveling that adds to the overall exquisite experience of leaving your comfort zone—physically, mentally, and spiritually. 

“It’s just fun to meet people in your travels. That is the mark of a good traveler. You need to slow down. You’ve got great freeways all over Europe, but it is so nice to get stuck behind a bunch of animals and talk to the farmer,” said Steves. “In Ireland, they love to say ‘strangers are just friends who have yet to meet.’ Well, if you've got a chance to do some foreign study over there, you can also learn about a society that has grappled with a very complicated and tragic divided society problem and done quite well, I think, to the inspiration of other countries that are in that kind of a crisis.”

To that end, Steves also said travel is an inherently political act. His second public talk addressed that theme more directly. 

“It’s nice in our travels to realize that the world is not a pyramid with us on top and everybody else trying to figure it out,” he said. “We’re all just beautiful people on this planet trying to make it. My favorite souvenir is going home with the understanding the world is filled with love.”

Study abroad applications are open through April 14. Learn more and apply