For many college students, they may be the first person in their family to attend college — and in most cases, will then be the first person in their family to get the chance to study abroad. There are many things people look forward to when they get abroad, but how do you make sure you really get to know the local culture? For students studying abroad, it can take time to pick up on local customs, depending on the destination. Don’t be surprised if you can end up standing out like a tourist as you navigate your new home. You look different, you act different, and you speak different.
Don’t worry, though, as undergoing these experiences will help in building your confidence, and lead to creating memories that last a lifetime. To help alleviate the initial culture shock that comes with arriving in a country completely unfamiliar to you, especially for those traveling abroad for the first time, consider the following tips and you’ll be traveling smarter in no time.
1. Carry small
The first way to avoid the trappings of being labeled a “tourist” pertains to when you arrive and the number of bags you have in tow. The first red flag that you are new to the country will be obvious from the fact that you’ve brought everything from home with you. Pack light! Learn how to shop locally. See what trends or styles are popular in the country you are traveling. Visit flea markets or open air markets to see what deals you can find on outfits locals your age are wearing. Not only will you now look like a local, you will have great pieces to take back home to show off.
2. Plug in your headphones when using audio directions
This tip is key for any traveler at home traveling domestically or abroad in a foreign country. Looking lost is an indicator that you are not from the area and can make you a prime target to risks or incidents. For example: theft, harassment, fraud, or kidnapping. Plugging in your headphones when using an app for directions will help conceal what you are listening to. Although having your headphones plugged in may slight distract you from everything else going on, there is more privacy in what strangers will be able to see and hear. Devising a plan on the places you want to go ahead of time, and reviewing directions at home, will help to make it easier to stay aware while out and about.
3. Tap into local resources
To be one with the local community, you truly have to act like a local. Does the city offer free library cards to visitors? If you are a student studying at an international university, do you get a student I.D.? How about transportation? Multiple cities abroad have excellent modes of transportation and if you are living abroad for an extensive amount of time( 2 months, 6 months, to a year) it is a great investment to buy tram, subway, or train cards. Are you a fan of visiting cultural sites, museums, or festivals? Research what deals or special offers are given to visitors or students.
4. Learn local slang
Getting hip to the local slang will benefit you more than you think. Speaking like a local will help make purchasing items in markets a bit easier, because merchants will not immediately be inclined to raise the price on you. Coming across as a local will connect you more to the environment, culture, and the atmosphere, thereby helping with any initial culture shock. Learning key phrases if you are in a non-English speaking country will begin the steps in crossing the language barrier.
5. Make a friend
This is a fundamental tip to keep in mind when traveling. If you are interning abroad alone, on a summer program in a home stay, or even in a big group of students in a university hostel, having a local friend in-country is a gratifying experience. You are participating in a cultural exchange and possibly making a lifelong friendship. Making a friend in a new country that you trust and who is reliable is important. This new friend will be excited to show you around the town, visit local landmarks, and try authentic restaurants.
6. Eating locally (aka: street food)
Are you adventurous with food? Trying the local cuisine in a new country is not always found in restaurants, cafes, or tourist traps. Many unique, authentic, and traditional foods can be found with vendors or street food carts. To eat street food responsibly it is necessary to research the places to go, how food needs to be cooked, and which foods to stay away from. This is where having that local friend in-country becomes even more helpful, as they’ll be able to offer some good advice. It’s also best to know the dishes all the locals eat daily, because the majority of the time that food is prepared safely. Case in point: trying to find sushi in a country that is not typical of Japanese cuisine may land you a case of food poisoning. Bleh.
One last tip to keep in mind is water. It is best to drink bottled water instead of tap water, and to ask for no ice if you are ordering a beverage. During pre-departure or on-site orientation on your university campus, you will find out if the country you are traveling to has any warning about the water supplies.
Now with these tips you are on the road to making your trip a breeze!
Authored By: Dalila Sanabria – STA Travel Student Ambassador
Dalila Sanabria is an STA Travel Student Ambassador and recent grad looking for new travel opportunities. You will see her raving about what she enjoys most about travel, as she is an avid supporter of traveling abroad. Some of the things that inspire her the most about travel include: taking part in new adventures, trying new food and drinks and learning about new cultures.