Dig Deeper – Getting in Touch with the Local Culture
One of the challenges that some students say that the face when studying abroad is meeting local student or friends from the city they are studying abroad in. As we would all imagine, most students don’t study abroad so that they can spend time with their fellow US classmates – they want to make new friends from around the world.
This can be a challenge for a few different reasons:
- Language Barriers: Let’s be honest – most of us don’t go abroad already having a fluent grasp on the host language. That’s one of the main reasons American students study abroad. They don’t speak a second language and they would like to be able to. The process of learning a second language takes patience, diligence, and a sense of humor.
- The Classroom: Spinning off of the language barrier idea, if you don’t speak the language fluently already, you probably aren’t going to be taking classes with the local students. This means you’ve got to find another way to meet them.
- Time Constraints: If you’re studying for one semester, that’s not a whole lot of time to make a group of friends, no matter the language you speak. This means you don’t have any time to waste.
My suggestions on how to get in touch with the local culture, despite these hurdles you may face:
- Speak the local language as often as possible. Talk to everyone you can – professors, classmates, cab drivers, grocery store clerks, the man selling umbrellas in the street… anyone! If you try your best to practice the language frequently, you’ll find you’re improving each day with new words, better grammar, higher confidence, and eventually you’ll reach fluency, or at least a level at which you feel comfortable holding a conversation. Once you get there, you’ll know, and you’ll love the feeling you get when you can sit at dinner with your homestay family have a real conversation in your second language!
- Get a local language tutor. This person may turn into a good friend or at least a connection to the local social scene. No one knows the current slang or best night life spots than a local student, and if that student is willing to teach the language to a foreigner, he or she is probably pretty interested in learning about you and your culture as well. It’s a way of sharing ideas through language, and it can be a beautiful thing.
- Break out of your comfort zone, and do it quickly. If you’re feeling any sense of culture shock (whether you realize it or not) you might find yourself getting into a comfortable, yet boring routine, which is not what study abroad is about. Volunteer your time to a community program, even if it’s only a few hours per week.Take your host brother out for coffee, even if you don’t drink coffee. Join a gym or a school club, even if that’s not usually your thing. Eat in the university cafeteria, even if the food is better at your favorite café. Avoid the typical Friday night club full of Americans or the pub on Sunday that shows NFL games. Go where the locals go, and put yourself in a position to meet them – you never know who you’ll get to know and where you’ll be invited to go next. The more people see your face and hear your voice, the quicker you’ll feel connected to the local culture, because the local culture will feel connected to you.
- Lastly, take advantage of the connection to the local culture that is already built into your study abroad program: your Site Director. Sure they are there to help you with any issues that you may face, but they are also there to guide you and answer any questions you have about how to get involved. They can give you great suggestions, so utilize them as a resource. You’ll thank yourself later!