Maximizing Your International Experience
Making the most of your international experience and reaching your intercultural competency goals involves:
- Knowledge about cultural norms, values, behaviors and issues
- Flexibility to adapt to new situations
- Open-mindedness to encounter new values
- Resourcefulness, problem-solving skills, and culturally-appropriate people skills
How can you attain this knowledge and skill set?
Remember your pre-departure research
As part of pre-departure preparation, you were encouraged to become familiar with your host culture through research about the country and informal interactions with foreign students, movies, novels, etc. To familiarize yourself with the host culture means to understand the attitudes, values, and beliefs of that culture, and to try approach the culture through the eyes of a local resident. Being aware of current events in your new country and city is also crucial. Who is the leader? What important decision is the country facing? What are the favorite national sports and teams? Through this research you will be able to appreciate and interpret events in your new country.
Be involved and engaged
Make every effort to meet the local people of your host country. It is too easy to fall into the habit of associating only with other Americans. Sometimes, you may make an effort to be friendly only to be met by reserve and distance. Don’t give up. What you may interpret as rejection might be a difference in cultural patterns. If you persist in your efforts, you will come to understand, appreciate, and engage with your hosts. Go to parks, travel on trains, avoid tourist sites, and get out on your own instead of spending time with a large group of Americans.
Reflect on your time
Keep a diary, journal, or scrapbook, or write letters/postcards to yourself to send home. When you are experiencing a new culture, seeing new places, and meeting new people, everything is so immediate and fundamental that you feel as if you will never forget it. In reality, your feelings, impressions, and memories are elusive and ever-changing. Try to capture them as they happen.
Don’t put things off to the end
If you wait and wait to visit a cultural site, make a trip, develop friendships, or say goodbye, you may find yourself coming home without having had the chance to do these things. Your time abroad is finite (at least for now), so waiting until the last minute can mean that you run out of time to do the things you wanted to do, leaving you feeling disappointed and without closure.