Tips on How to Respect Host Countries While Studying Abroad
So, you’ve decided to go on a volunteer abroad trip to China. You know the culture is different, and you’ve been warned of impending culture shock. What do you need to know before you go on your high school summer program? How can you best prepare yourself to respect the host country where you’ll be spending a big chunk of your summer? Here are a few tips.
1. Learn the language.
You don’t have to become fluent in Mandarin, but becoming familiar with a few polite terms will work wonders. Being able to say “hi,” “thank you,” “my name is…” and “have a good day” in the language of your destination lets locals know that you respect them enough to start learning their culture. It also makes you look less like a tourist and more like a pro traveler-always a plus.
2. Dress conservatively.
While skinny jeans and tank tops might be appropriate where you grew up, many cultures have deeply-set religious and cultural traditions that preclude Western style. Your regular garb could be considered disrespectful in China or many other Eastern cultures. Many pro travelers recommend keeping knees and shoulders covered, especially if you’ll be visiting religious sites while you travel.
3. Learn history.
Learning about the history of the place where you’ll volunteer abroad will give you a deeper understanding of the culture. It answers a lot of those Why on earth do they do things like THIS? questions that come up on an international trip–and you’ll be one of the best-informed among your fellow service trip sojourners. It’s a win-win.
4. Try the local food.
Don’t turn up your nose at the local cuisine. If you’re a picky eater, it might be best to try things before asking questions (“What kind of meat is that?!” isn’t the best way to impress a host in your destination country). Be respectful and willing to try new things–even if you only end up taking one bite.
5. Watch and learn.
Some things you take for granted-like the way to cross the street-might not be exactly as you expect when you’re on the other side of the world. Watch the way the locals conduct themselves and become a master of imitation. This technique could save your life on a busy Shanghai intersection.
Going on a high school volunteer abroad trip means stepping out of your comfort zone and getting a feeling for a new place, which can be a challenge–but a worthwhile one. Keeping an open mind while you’re there will make your trip exponentially more rewarding. You won’t regret it.