10 Tips for Experiencing the Culture While Studying Abroad
Studying abroad is not always easy. Language barriers can leave foreign students feeling isolated on occasions, and home sickness is common among young travelers. Studying abroad can be made easier and more enjoyable if students do not think of themselves as visitors, but instead immerse themselves in a region’s culture. Provided below are 10 tips for experiencing the culture while studying abroad.
1. Avoid being a tourist
As mentioned above, the best way to experience a culture is become a part of it. Forgetting hamburgers, hair gel and jeans in favor of local dishes and clothing is a step in the right direction.
2. Learn the language
A foreign culture will naturally seem alien to those who do not understand its language. Learning a few local phrases can make a difference. Learning a language can revolutionize a student’s experience.
3. Behave appropriately
Certain behavior in the United States is perfectly acceptable – in the States! Understanding a region’s unwritten rules and codes of conduct can help students experience a culture without inviting unnecessary danger or suspicion. Female students in particular should learn the connotations attached to various words and gestures.
4. Learn the law
As with Tip 3, learning the law is an essential aspect of experiencing a foreign culture. Countries such as Thailand, China and Dubai have very different laws and customs than the U.S., and harsh penalties can be imposed on those who step out of line.
5. Stay with a family
Living on campus offers several advantages, but living with a family while studying abroad can significantly enhance a traveler’s experience. Cultural nuances can be learned more quickly – and in greater depth – by living among the locals.
6. Anticipate culture shock
Studying abroad may seem a great idea, but many students are unprepared for what awaits them. According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education, culture shock affects most foreign students and consists of ten stages, ranging from initial anxiety and elation to re-entry shock and reintegration. A better understanding of culture shock can help travelers reach stage 6 (acceptance of host culture) more quickly.
7. Participate or volunteer
Participating in community projects or volunteering for work experience can help foreign students absorb a culture. TravellersWorldwide.com and other such services provide students with opportunities to contribute to local communities.
8. Avoid touristy destinations
Tourist hot-spots tend not to be indicative of a region’s culture, which is why certain corners of the world should be avoided by traveling students if they are hunting for a local experience.
9. Buy travel insurance
Exploring the world can be exciting and dangerous in equal measure. Studying abroad without insurance is arguably as hazardous as riding a motorcycle without a helmet. Experiencing a culture in depth demands a strong sense of adventure and travel insurance provides the safety net when things go wrong.
10. Embrace technology
Smartphones make learning a new culture as easy as pie. Translation tools, interactive maps, restaurant-finders and local event guides are all readily available for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7, and BlackBerry devices.