Getting the opportunity to study abroad is so valuable and the perfect chance to fully immerse yourself in a new culture which is exciting. With this in mind, it’s so important to be respectful of your new home. Think of living abroad as being a guest in the locals’ home. Consciously thinking of yourself as a guest helps to put things into perspective. Just like you want to be respectful in someone else’s home, as a study abroad student, you should be respectful of the residents of your host country. Expecting your host country to adapt to you and your norms is disrespectful and creates a greater barrier between you and your ability to immerse yourself in the culture. It’s helpful to take steps to ensure you are being as respectful as possible in order to get the most out of your time abroad. I am currently studying abroad in Florence, Italy, and hopefully can provide you with a few tips and tricks to help you adapt to your new home:
Learn the Language
Learning the language of your host country, even if it’s just the basics, is a great step toward showing respect. Although many residents of your host country may also speak English, it shows thoughtfulness and courtesy toward their culture when you try to accommodate them and adapt to their language. Most of the time, when I walk into an establishment, I’m already greeted with a “hello,” which is nice at times, but it’s also the easy way out. Sometimes, even if they speak English, I’ll go out of my way to attempt using some of my Italian with them to show that I am trying. It also helps me get better at the language. By showing even a little bit of effort in communicating with them, locals are likely to be nicer and more patient with you. Never expect locals to speak English, so always be prepared to know at least some simple phrases to get by.
Be Aware of Social Norms and Etiquette
Your host country is probably very different from your home country in a lot of ways. They have their own social norms and etiquette that should definitely be accounted for during your stay. Something you do or say when you’re back home might be socially unacceptable in your new home. For example, when I go to the grocery store or farmers market here in Italy, I’ve been yelled at for touching the fruit. At the grocery store, you must be wearing a glove and at the farmer’s market they pick the fruit for you. Making the simple changes to adapt to their social norms can make the biggest difference in how you are perceived by locals. By observing and talking with locals, you can gain awareness of these cultural attributes and adapt to them to the best of your ability.
Along with social norms, there are most likely dress standards in your host country that are different from what you’re used to. Not that you have to buy a new wardrobe to fit in, but making the effort to dress more like the locals can help you blend in better. In your host country, you might find that they dress up more or find certain garments offensive. In Italy, locals have a higher standard for dress. I haven’t seen a single person who doesn’t look put together when they leave the house. Back home, I could easily get away with wearing sweatpants out and about. If I did that here, I would draw so much attention to myself. Just be aware of the differences and try to incorporate local trends into your wardrobe. You might even be mistaken for a local!
Look Up from Your Phone
Staying in contact with friends and family back home is important when you’re abroad, but try to avoid checking your phone at inconvenient or inappropriate times. It shows great respect for a country when you make the effort to look up from your phone and experience what they have to offer. It will also help you avoid bumping into locals and making them angry (from personal experience, this is not fun). Another tip I’ve picked up that goes along with phone use is picture-taking. Avoid taking disrespectful photos in your home country. And leave your selfie stick at home! All in all, when it comes to your phone, the less you use it, the more you have the opportunity to experience.
Ultimately, you should show nothing but gratitude toward your host country for taking you in and allowing you the chance to experience what their culture is like. By showing this gratitude toward the locals, you will have a much more positive and enriching experience. My best advice is to make friends with locals, step outside your comfort zone, and challenge yourself to invite change into your life. You might just pick up a few changes to your lifestyle that will stick. As for me, I probably won’t go back home and use a glove to pick up my fruit, but while I’m here, I’ll stick to how the locals do it.