Guest Post Contributed By: Sophia Richards
See your host country through a local’s eye! Avoid exploiting and objectifying a country for its rare cultural practices and tourist destinations by catching unique perspectives when you stray from tourist populated areas.
Avoid walking around with your camera
You will want to capture every moment in this new place; everything seems so exotic and new. But rather than taking photos of everything you see take it in visually. You will appreciate the moment for what it is, and you will blend in and appear to be more of a local in the process.
Explore in small groups, pairs, or by yourself (if its safe)
Walking around in large groups can capture unwanted attention. Grab a friend or someone you want to get to know and explore the area you’re living in! This will call less attention to your status as a foreigner.
Walk into unknown eateries
If you don’t share a language trust the power of communication without spoken word, and get a taste of what people in your host country have for breakfast, lunch and dinner. My friends and I discovered yellow sticky rice for breakfast from a woman around the corner – it was delicious and kept us full all day.
Make friends with locals
The only way to truly get to know your city, town, or village from a local’s eye is to have someone show you around. They know the ins and outs of their hometown; the best places to get good and inexpensive food, local performances and crafty villages or festivals.
If you have the time, volunteer!
Volunteering or working in your host country is an excellent way to make connections and get involved in the community. I made many friends whom later showed me their favorite places around the city.
When reserving hotels, hostels, or Airbnb’s – book in small, residential neighborhoods
The best way to see what local life is like is to be a part of it. Smaller areas tend to attract fewer tourists so you can get a taste of a place for what it is, rather than what the tourist industry wants you to see it as.
Sit back and blend in
Observe and take in all the rare and familiar cultural practices. Sitting in a café and people-watching is a great way to understand a new place and what goes on everyday.
Although I was and never could truly be a local, spending time in residential areas and following these guidelines gave me a better understanding of what Vietnam is like to the people that live and have grown up there, rather than what Vietnam is portrayed to be through social media, government representations and romanticized vacations.
Sophia Richards is a junior studying Sociology, Anthropology and Women’s Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. She recently spent her fall semester in Vietnam, volunteering and studying the history, language and culture. She’s now back at school in Geneva, New York, awaiting her next adventure. Check out photos from her travels in Vietnam on Flickr.