In order to succeed in your academics and profession in the host country, you need to understand the values, beliefs and history of the country. This will give you insights into the classroom room culture as well as the work culture which will make your adjustment process smoother. Apart from this, you will also get to expand your understanding of the business environment in the country and maybe even come up with entrepreneurial ideas to help society.
Remember that part of your reason to study abroad is the aspect of travelling and learning from a new culture so that you can apply their positive values to your life and improve your critical and creative skills. One thing that this can do for you is give you ideas for your research project and help you apply the communication skills during the data collection part of the dissertation process.
Introduction to the host country
This process should start even before you land in the host country. Try to get to know as much as you can because it will help you in your visa interview and help reduce the culture shock when you arrive. Knowing the basic things about the country will also help you converse confidently about the social, economic and political scenario in the country.
You are planning to spend the next few years of your life in a new place. It is important to know as much as you can about the place. Find out where exactly it is located- the geographical location of a country can tell you a lot about its history and present due to the countries it is surrounded by. You can also see the time zone and how different it would be from your home country so that you can get an idea about how it would affect your communication with people back home.
Another thing that the location of the country reveals is the climate and weather of the place. How much is climate change affecting it? What are the normal temperatures during all the seasons? If you have never experienced extreme weather, it will be a challenge and you will have to be prepared for it.
The type of government can tell you a lot about the attitudes of the people in the country. Who are the main political leaders and dominant parties? There must be some unspoken rules about the political discussions in the country so you should accumulate this information before going there.
The economic condition of the country will tell you about the cost and standard of living. Moreover, if you are a business student or just someone who is interested in launching a business in the future there, it will help you gauge the situation. Local newspapers can give you this information very accurately.
Cultural traditions and customs
Understanding the cultural setup of the country will teach you a lot about the social decorum and this way, you can follow the right ethics. Your host country might have different customs related to authorities and parental figures so if you approach those situations with your own lens, you might end up offending someone.
When you are travelling on the public transport or greeting elders at a shop, there are some manners to be followed. For example, in Thailand you can never sit on the dedicated seats for monks and in South Korea, you have to greet elders differently. You can either read about these things online or in books but you can also watch their local films and learn by observation. Some things, however, will be learned by mistakes during your first few days there.
You can learn about this in depth if you actually get to live with a local family or a local friend invites you for a family dinner. This will also inform you about the gender roles in the country and how liberal or conservative the social landscape is.
The religious makeup of the society can tell you a lot about the topics and discussions that are considered impolite and taboo. How to respect certain religious practices, places, figures or monuments is a part of this as well. You have to assimilate yourself smoothly into a new society so inform yourself properly about this.
Sometimes a certain kind of clothing can also cause conflict in public if it offends people so dress appropriately always. If your home country is casual about clothing in university but the host country is not, you will have to adjust accordingly.
Cultural exchange and adaptation
The entire idea of having international students in the host country is to encourage healthy cultural exchange. You are not the only one who will be learning, the locals will be learning from you as well.
Adjusting to a new culture
It can be incredibly difficult to overcome homesickness and welcome all the new changes with a positive attitude. You will have to engage in local events, campus activities and be proactive to get confident with your communication skills in the new language (if the native language of the host country is new to you).
Building relationships with locals
Your daily interactions are the best way to build these relationships. Your cleaner, barista, neighbours, are all people that you can talk to and slowly build a support system. Sometimes you also find friendly people at your job. Building these social connections is important because you are creating a new sense of belonging in the host country.
The best way for overcoming cultural barriers is to communicate effectively in the local language. You can practise this on apps like Duolingo or HelloTalk. There are also ways to find language exchange partners who would learn a language from you in exchange for teaching you the local language.
Tourist attractions and activities
Tourist attractions are the museums, monuments and natural wonders that are the prominent features of the city. These places can tell stories about the city and help you understand the attitudes and local customs of the people. When you develop this critical understanding, you will feel scared and more open towards the new things you experience.
Historical landmarks and museums
Seeing the past of the country will help you imagine the lives of the citizens and what factors account for its current socio-economic setup. Everything is connected to the historical events and it will make you appreciate the many facets of the culture.
Art and entertainment
Appreciating the culture also includes encouraging the artists and the critical thinkers of the country. Visit the art galleries, music festivals, concerts and festivals that celebrate the culture and beauty of the nation. Their work is a reflection of the society and this is yet another way for you to gain knowledge about the problems and positive aspects of the host country’s society.
Sports and recreation
Participate in the local sports and recreational activities to connect with the locals. Taking interest in their pastimes are a great way to socialise and have a good time to destress from your academic life as well. Consider joining a sports club to have a routine.
Food and drink
Researching about the local foods is important because if you have allergies or certain foods are forbidden in your religion, you have to find alternatives in the host country to find the substitutes. Also look at the prices for these commodities in order to plan your budget and living expenses. Don’t forget to enjoy it though- try new and adventurous foods every now and then!
Travelling teaches you things that you can not learn from books or Youtube videos so keep an open mind and an adventurous heart to explore everything fully. You might even discover new things about yourself.
Reflections on the cultural exploration experience
Cultural exploration has some beautiful benefits. You can even feel a difference in your thought patterns after watching a foreign film, so immersing yourself in a new culture by living there can give you a whole new way to challenge your current beliefs. This will make you think about things in a different manner and realise that the definition of normal is distinct in every social context.
Keep a travel diary or journal to record all your new adventures in your host country and this will make you reflect later on when you go through it.
Personal growth and development
Living in a restricted and limited world can slow down your progress. New and challenging experiences will bring you out of your shell and show you something new about yourself. The most important part is to venture into situations that scare you and let yourself respond to it in a new way. Things that you might have accepted in your own society and culture will now begin to get challenged in your mind and you will become less judgmental and more curious about the world around you. This invaluable personal development is not possible if you keep sitting in the same place all your life.