Preparing For Your Trip
It is very hard to know what life is really like in a country or region whose culture one has never experienced directly. But it is very easy to have the illusion of knowing what it will be like from images furnished by the media, from reading, or perhaps having met a few people from there, here on home ground.
Simply knowing about another culture, however, is not the same thing as knowing what it will feel like to be learning and living there, on its terms. Every culture has distinct characteristics that make it different from every other culture. One of the difficulties students and other travelers have in adjusting to foreign life comes about because they take abroad with them too much of their own cultural baggage . Misleading stereotypes and preconceptions about others, coupled with a lack of awareness of that part of them selves which was formed “back home”. As a result, suddenly feeling like a fish out of water is a not uncommon experience. It is in fact something, which should be anticipated as normal and likely, at least for the first few days.
The golden rule is be patient, don t panic and allow yourself to settle slowly into the culture. When traveling things don t always go to plan: missed flights, long delays, getting lost, not being able to communicate and setting unrealistic expectations.
Minor problems may quickly assume the proportions of major crises, and you may find yourself growing somewhat depressed. You may feel an anxiety that results from losing all our familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse, a kind of psychological disorientation. You will indeed be experiencing what has come to be referred to as "Culture Shock". Such feelings are perfectly normal, so, knowing this and with a bit of conscious effort, you will soon find yourself making adjustments (some quite subtle and perhaps not even noticeable at the conscious level) that will enable you to adapt to your new cultural environment.
When it comes to language, most people will be extremely flattered rather than amused at your efforts to communicate in their native language. Do not be intimidated or inhibited when practicing your own limited command of the language. A couple of words of caution might be in order: do your best to avoid slang expressions, which are usually unique to the particular culture, and which may therefore be totally meaningless or inappropriate in the context of another culture. Be aware of the differences between the "familiar" and the "polite" forms of address and be sure to use them properly.
Accommodation abroad is very different to what you are used to in North America. Expect your room to be smaller, sometimes the water is not hot and you may have a bath instead of a shower. Forget Air Conditioning, this is very uncommon around the world, even in Western Europe, fans are the norm.
When staying with host families, expect local dishes and not “American” styled food. Meals may be prepared much later than your used to and phone calls should be limited, other than North America, most people around the world pay for their local calls.
Be sensitive in your dealings with others and try not to let your own self-image and habits become a preoccupation when facing new situations. E.g. opinions, behavior, body language, expressions and addressing those in authority or those whom you have not met before. Use correct formalities in title; Mr. or Mrs. Some topics of conversation in public are taboo: abortion, casual sex, social politics, etc. Listen first to discover what is acceptable. Enjoy the change and take everything with a bit of humor. Have a sense of adventure and remember why you are studying aboard in the first place.
Preparing for your Language Immersion Program
Whether your are a complete beginner or even an advanced speaker in another language, a little preparation can really help you get the most out of your language immersion program. Below is some advice, which might ease the transition into a new culture and make learning the language a little easier.
Set Realistic Goals
Learning another language isn t easy; it takes time, practice and many mistakes. Go into each class with the goal of increasing your communication skills. Never assume that you are going to perfect the language in so many weeks or months, you will only add more pressure onto yourself!
Work On Your Vocabulary
If your a complete beginner, buy a phrase book (preferably with a tape to accompany it) and learn some basic expressions and phrases such as: “Please”, “Thank you”, “Where is . . “How much. . . “, etc. Knowing these phrases and using hand gestures effectively will help you in daily life.
For intermediate or advanced speakers, we recommend learning as much vocabulary as possible before you go, including common idioms. Your language instruction will focus mainly on grammar, conversation and listening.
The more vocabulary you have going into a program, the more ways you will learn to apply the language. All students should bring a comprehensive dictionary (not only a pocket dictionary) and may want to consider purchasing a guidebook that has a section listing common local colloquialisms.
Think The Language
Don’t try and translate everything word for word. It doesn t really work and you will drive your self crazy looking for a word that just doesn t exist. Start thinking in your new language.
Interpretation of Actions and Words
There is diversity of non-verbal communication styles throughout the world. It is not only words that are important but how body language and expression are used as well. In Japan it is rude to shake hands, bowing is the etiquette. In Europe you often voice a welcome when entering a store; informal dress when attending cultural events would be considered disrespectful.
Adaptation and Flexibility
Try to develop your ability to deal with aspects of a new environment, which are different from those you left behind. For example: standards of living vary, most of our students are coming from a country with a higher standard of living and where modern day conveniences are taken for granted. Be open minded to changing your approach and habits.
e.g. learning to play soccer when there is no football, trying new foods, eating dinner at 10 p.m. instead of 6 p.m., and perhaps accepting that meal portions may be smaller or larger than you are used to.
Try to develop your ability to deal with aspects of a new environment. For example, foreign language, body language, city layouts, bus schedules and payment, shop closing times, mealtimes, holidays, types of food eaten at each meal, spices, table manners, cutlery, prices of merchandise and the social history of the country.
Sensitivity and Tolerance Towards Unfamiliar Situations
Be sensitive in your dealings with others and try not to let your own self-image and habits become a preoccupation when facing new situations. E.g. opinions, behavior, body language, expressions and addressing those in authority or those whom you have not met before. Use correct formalities in title; Mr. or Mrs. Certain topics of conversation in public are taboo: abortion, casual sex, social politics, etc.
Listen first to discover what is acceptable. Enjoy the change and take everything with a bit of humor. Have a sense of adventure and remember why you are studying abroad in the first place.
Open your mind, be patient and curious. Take it all in and have the time of your life!