The White Liberal Syndrome:

How to stay grounded while abroad.


By Emma Hagert

Graphic by Madison Mercardo


The critically acclaimed HBO series The White Lotus is back for another season, this time set on a new island of Sicily, where showrunner Mike White digs deep into the comical and trivial existence of rich, privileged white people on vacation.


Amongst the stacked cast, Aubrey Plaza is exceptional at playing her character Harper, an accomplished lawyer who mocks her companions while complaining about how she can’t sleep because of “everything that’s going on in the world.”


Completely oblivious to her own hypocrisy, and because she and her husband are the newly rich “white passing friends,” in Harper’s mind they must get a pass. While White pokes fun at his characters' consciousnesses, threading a web of chaos in their lives, there is something to learn from these trivialities.


For example, staying grounded while abroad is important. Anyone who wants to know how not to make a complete mockery of themselves can watch The White Lotus, but there also are many ways to remind yourself that wherever you are, it is a privilege, in essence, to be on vacation.


Going into a trip with less expectations can make for a more memorable experience but also a more respectful one as well. Everything is new, exciting, and authentic, and trying to mimic the comforts of your life back home takes away from these opportunities.


Be patient and slow the pace of your life down. As students and Americans, we thrive on the go-go-go lifestyle. While some places such as Tokyo match that energy, others like Sevilla are lax where the day-to-day revolves around taking a siesta.

People love to talk. While there are unfriendly bartenders, hotel, and restaurant owners out there, they’re hard to come by. Armond even faked it till he couldn't make it. Engaging with the locals can help you feel more connected with wherever you are, and most likely you will learn something new or find some common ground.


While expecting less can be helpful, it still is wise to do some homework on where you’re traveling so as not to live up to the world’s hype of being the most ignorant American. You can try to nail the basic cultural etiquette—learning how to greet others and say please and thank you is a good place to start.


Try and learn something about where you are while abroad, even if it's just a small bit of its history. Many flock to Kailua-Kona, Hawaii for the wondrous hikes, beaches, and snorkeling, and leave without knowing that area was home to the great leader King Kamehameha I. A figure and tale many locals are proud to entertain.


Traveling is many things. It is a privilege and in some ways an awakening much similar to what the lotus flower represents. You often come away from experiences abroad feeling refreshed, stronger, and ready for what comes next.


In a way, the most difficult part is finding how to strike a balance between those expectations of what your experience should be like abroad and what you hope to truly get out of it.