Going abroad is an amazing experience that opens your eyes to many different things. That being said, much of what you see is not “normal” or what you are used to from your home country. Therefore, try to not use the word “normal”, and understand that just because the culture is different than what you are used to doesn’t make it “bad” or “good”; it’s just different. Enjoy your time abroad, and learn to understand – and respect – this newfound culture. It’ll provide you with a unique insight into the country and its people.
Before your trip abroad, try learning a few key words. Even if your pronunciation or vocabulary isn’t perfect, the locals like when you try to connect with them by using their language. While studying abroad in Italy, I tried to use Italian as much as possible, which not only created a deeper relationship with the Italians but it also allowed me to understand more of the culture, and it improved my Italian immensely.
Again, being abroad is about learning, understanding, and respecting different cultures. One of the major tips to being a respectful American is to be patient. Whether it’s trying to communicate with people in your language – or theirs – or in situations that you might not be used to. For example, in Italy, dining is a leisurely activity. The food is carefully prepared and served with care. In addition, the actual meal can take hours, especially because the wait staff does not work for tips – like they do in the United States – which also increases wait time. Although it might seem frustrating, you have to remember to be patient and wait for your food. And trust me, it’s worth it.
Before going abroad, educate yourself of the local customs, culture, art, literature, history, and politics. In addition, educate yourself about the history, politics, and popular culture that is happening in America. Firstly, in learning about a different country before going abroad, it gives you an opportunity to connect with the locals by having conversations and asking questions. Secondly, learning about your own country on a deeper level makes you more educated for when others ask you about American. And they will. It is incredibly embarrassing when foreigners know more about your own country, so it is important to stay educated and informed.
Lastly, have an open mind. Try anything and everything even if it scares you, whether it be food, dress or activities. This allows you to have a deeper connection with the country, its culture, and its people. Remember, not only are you representing yourself while traveling aboard, but you are also representing your country. Enjoy being abroad. Travel respectfully, kindly, and with open eyes and an open heart.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jolie Blair is a rising senior at Emory University from Sun Valley, Idaho. She is double majoring in Theater Studies and Public Health and has a passion for the arts, writing, and traveling. She studied abroad for the 2016 fall semester in Rome, Italy and had an experience of a lifetime, which she loves to share with those who want to listen (and even those who don’t like her 140lb Great Dane!).