Going abroad is a great opportunity to learn about a new culture from a first-hand perspective. However, for a lot of students, immersing yourself in the local culture can be an unexpected challenge. Many students find themselves clinging to the familiar and spending all their time abroad hanging out with Americans. It can be really comforting to have a support system abroad that understands your native culture and it can even help you adjust to your new environment. But the danger of limiting yourself to the familiar means you don’t get the full benefits of studying abroad. Here are some ways that might help you immerse yourself in the local culture while you are abroad.
- Find English conversation groups in your community. If you are studying abroad in a country where English isn’t the native language, English conversation groups can be a great way to meet people from the local community. A lot of communities organize English conversation groups so that the local community can practice English with native English speakers. This is an especially useful opportunity if you’re not super comfortable speaking the local language because you can still talk to people in the local community while speaking English.
- Participate in sports or other extracurricular activities. Just as joining extracurricular activities is a great way to meet people in America, it’s also a great way to meet people and immerse yourself abroad. Although the sports culture might be a little different in the country you’re going to, there’s usually some kind of activity you can join, whether it’s through the school or the community. Most of my peers who truly immersed themselves in the culture did so by participating in local organizations or sports teams.
- Look into programs with host families or immersive classes. When you are deciding on an education abroad program, think about how much you want to immerse yourself in the local culture while you are abroad. One of the best ways to immerse yourself is through a host family. A host family can be a useful resource to introduce you to the local culture, and it can also give you the opportunity to talk to someone from the local culture on a daily basis. Programs with immersive classes can also be great, especially if you are taking classes with local students and local professors.
- Make an effort to talk to people who are native to your host country. Just making the effort to go out of your way to talk to people can be helpful when you are trying to immerse yourself in the local culture. Even just having basic interactions like ordering food or looking in shops can help you feel like part of the local culture.
- Keep yourself updated and informed with local news and politics. In many countries like France, politics can often be a good conversation starter because it is a common conversation topic. If you keep up with the news in America as well as the news in your host country, it can be much easier to find a common topic of conversation. A lot of people in other countries follow American news and politics quite closely, and many of the conversations I had abroad related somehow to politics and how American politics compared to French politics. Just be aware before you go abroad that many conversation starters that seem polite in America can be perceived as off-putting or even rude when you are abroad.
Caitlin Smith is a senior at the University of Kentucky studying French and Sociology. She studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France during the Spring 2016 semester.