September 16, 2011

Studying Abroad? How to Fit in With the Locals

Studying abroad brings many benefits. It's a good way to experience the wider world and to become a well rounded person who can get along with anyone. But the first time you head off to a foreign study centre or university you might find it a bit challenging. The best way to get a lot from the experience is to integrate yourself fully into the culture. Here are some tips for doing just that.

Learn the language
With hundreds of languages worldwide one of the options is studying abroad is a country where your native tongue is not the primary mode of communication. This is not for everyone and you have to decide whether your language skills are adequate for taking instruction in a different language or whether you will follow a course in your native language and spend the rest of the time getting to know the local language. 

One option, especially if you already know some of the language, is to do an immersion language course before you start your proper program of study. This will get you up to speed with the new language and, with the help of a good dictionary, you will be able to understand what people are saying and communicate adequately.

Even if you already speak the language you might find that what you learn in books does not match up with what you hear on the street. Check out a book or an online course which gives you access to the latest slang so that you can sound like a native speaker from the beginning. And once you have improved your language skills you will be ready for phase 2 of the plan.

Learn the customs
Knowing local etiquette is crucial to your success as an international student. You need to know what behavior and forms of address are appropriate for particular circumstances. Find out from books, websites and your own observations how to greet people (or say goodbye), how to enter and leave people's homes, how to behave at the dinner table and more. These can vary widely around the world and you'll make a good impression if you have taken the time to find out what to do. And you can always ask -- most people are willing to help those who are new to the country.

Shadow the locals
One of the mistakes that some foreign students meet is to hang out only with their friends who already speak the same language. This might be comfortable but you won't get the most out of your study abroad experience. Instead make friends with local students. See where they hang out and go to the same places to broaden your social circle and your cultural knowledge.

While you could stay in the provided student accommodation, depending on your location it could be a good idea to find an apartment somewhere that is more integrated into the local community. Even better, pick a roommate who doesn't speak the same language as you do. That means that your new language will become the common one and you will quickly get to grips with it. This will also help you to integrate more with the local community and really get a lot out of studying abroad.

Get to know the culture
Once you've beefed up your language skills and have made a few friends then it's time to get to know the local culture and check out the attractions. But you'll be able to do this with a difference. Instead of following the well trodden tourist trails, you can get your new friends to give you an insider's view of what is really worth seeing in the vicinity and around the region. When you get back home you'll be able to amaze your friends and family with your specialized knowledge of a place they may only have seen in the guidebooks.

Once you follow these tips you will really get the most out of studying abroad. Most people find that it gives them a greater appreciation of world cultures, exposure to people and situations that they would otherwise have missed and new language skills. All of these come in handy once you have finished your course and move into the working world.

Dee Mason writes on behalf of credit cards expert, offering impartial advice on personal finances for students and working professionals alike.

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