Making the Most of Your Experience
1. Explore your Surroundings: Get a map and venture out. Get lost and ask directions. Ride the public transportation. Discover old or important structures, stare, and ask admiring questions (people love to talk to interested newcomers). In doing this your language skills will improve, your ear will grow keen, and you'll feel right at home.
2. Study Human Interactions: Sit in the park or a sidewalk cafe, stand in a store, and observe. How do people greet one another and visit? How do friends act? How does one show respect? What seems to be typical dress for the different age groups? Can you spot an American? What are the American giveaways in dress, movement, voice, and gesture?
Try to behave as the locals do, blend into your surroundings and the culture. Compare the way you are treated when you act in this manner to how you are treated when you act as an American.
3. Expand your Social Circles: How do you feel when you see a close-knit group of friends walking, talking, and eating together? Are you able to easily approach these groups? How would you even begin to break the cultural, ethnic or social barriers?
If you hope to form friendships, you must open yourself up to others. The more you spend time in large groups of American (or English-speaking) friends, the more you send out the message that you prefer these friends. Consider how approachable your group is.
4. Master - or at Least Attempt - the Local Language: Force yourself into situations where you must talk - no matter how scary, difficult, or awkward it may seem. You'll be surprised how fast you win the trust and respect of nationals when you attempt to and can speak their language.
5. Engage through Service Learning or Volunteerism: Currently Chile, Guatemala, India, and South Africa have built-in service-learning courses. If you will study on a different program and still want to connect with the community, please seek out volunteer opportunities. Check with your Faculty Director for more information about options and opportunities!
6. Practice Sustainability Abroad: Think about social, economic, and environmental impact that you will have during your time abroad and make a conscious effort live and travel in a respectful and responsible manner. Below are a few tips and issues to consider:
- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
- Educate Yourself - Look into the history, politics, and current events of your host country. Ask questions about issues (water pollution, worker exploitation, etc.).
- Support Sustainable Operations - Stay at accommodations and go on tours that are sustainable.
- Fill out Comment Cards - Encourage hostels, tour companies, etc. to become more sustainable by leaving a suggestion on their comment cards. If you notice their operations could utilize renewable energy or local food, recommend it.
- Go Local - Eat local food, stay in local accommodations, and use local goods. It supports the economy of your host country.
- Bargain Fairly - A few dollars could be more valuable in your merchant's pocket than yours.
- Respect Restrictions - Do not walk on the ecological preserve. Respect the wildlife. Do not litter. Leave natural artifacts, such as seashells, plants, etc.
- Consider Transportation - Walk or bike, then try reliable public transportation such as buses or trains. If you must drive, use a car with all seats filled, and fly less as airplane travel is emission intensive.
- Be Water & Waste Conscious - The average walking distance to water in parts of Asia and Africa is 3 miles; be mindful of your water use. Carry a reusable water bottle if clean water is accessible. Try to simply reduce the items you need to toss. If recycling is available, use it!
- Be Mindful About Electricity Use - Turn off lights/electronics/appliances when they are not in use.
7. Ask Questions: Ignorance is not bliss. If you do not understand something, are curious, or need help, just ask someone. People's responsiveness may surprise you. Plus, questions are great conversation starters.
8. Be an Active Participant: Plunge right in! Do not wait to adjust before you participate; you adjust by participating. Your host country has its own culture with its own traditions, customs, manners, and written and unwritten laws - immerse yourself. Talk to as many people as possible, they have a lot to offer and you have a lot to learn.