Monday, October 10, 2016

Looking to Immerse Yourself into Your Host Culture?

Immersion is probably the #1 thing someone hopes for when they study abroad. In theory, it's easy - all you have to do is hang out with students from your host country! But in practice, it's anything but.

Some of the friends I made in Sweden were Swedish,
and some of the friends I made were international,
and that's okay!
Make no mistake - immersion is totally possible, but it's not an easy thing to accomplish in the slightest.

There's a lot of reasons for this.

A large reason can be a language barrier. I was very fortunate to be in Sweden, where almost every spoke English as well as they do their own language. However, if you go to a country where a large
portion of the population doesn't speak English and you don't speak the local language, this can pose problems.

Another thing that can hinder immersion is the fact that exchange students typically tend to hang out with other exchange students. There's no problem with this and it actually makes a lot of sense! You're all in pretty much the same boat. You're studying abroad, probably don't know anyone other
than each other in your host country, and the easiest thing to do is hang out with one another because you likely all have similar schedules. At the same time, local students already have their own friend
groups established, and even if they do ask if you want to hang out with them and their friends, you'll often feel like an outsider if you decide to join them.

This, and many other reasons, is why immersion into the host culture is a pretty daunting task, although it's almost always a student's goal when studying abroad. Lucky for you, I have a few hints and tricks on how you can better immerse yourself in your host country's culture!

Let's start by again addressing the issue of language. Speaking the local language makes immersion a thousand times easier. So if you go abroad and know the local language, don't be afraid to speak it! It's good to challenge yourself and push yourself out of your comfort zone because that's the best way to learn. Locals won't laugh at you if you make a mistake; they'll respect you for trying to speak their language.

If you don't speak the local language, your host university will most likely offer classes to learn the language, and you should definitely take those classes! You probably won't become perfectly fluent during the time that you're there, but it'll give you the basics you need to know about the language, which is obviously helpful.

Additionally, try to take some classes with local students! In many schools, there are classes specifically for exchange students, and in these classes, you won't get any interaction with locals. Taking classes with locals may seem hard to do if you're in a non-English speaking country and don't speak the language, but you'd be surprised at how many people take English language classes or even complete their degrees in English! In some cases, it may be easy to figure out which classes are for fexchange students and which classes Swedish students take (for example, I took a class called Swedish Society and Culture, which obviously a native Swede wouldn't take, but I also took a class called Hospitality Management, which had a lot of Swedish tourism students completing their degree in English!) so if you're not sure, don't be afraid to consult your advisor at your home university and ask for their advice.

And once you get into classes with local students, don't be afraid to interact with them! More often than not, local students are just as excited to meet international students as you are to meet local students. 

Remember that time my professor straight up
forgot about class so we tweeted him to
get to the bottom of things? Because I do.
Which leads right into my next piece of advice! Don't take the local students that show up to all of the functions for international students for granted!!! They're there because they want to meet you and get to know you. They're also really good people to ask for advice whenever you need it. So these people can be very, very important to you if you just let them be.

My final piece of advice is to try to find some activities to do outside of school that locals participate in. I tried a lot of weird things I never would have tried at home, such as pub crawls and stand up comedy in the basement of a sketchy looking building, and I had the opportunity to meet and interact with locals during these times. And, if you can, volunteer or get an internship! You can do this in English almost everywhere in the world, so if you don't speak the local language, don't let that hold you back!

There's a lot of difficult things when it comes to studying abroad, but immersion into the host culture is perhaps one of the most difficult. It's something that takes a lot of effort and certainly doesn't happen overnight. But immersing yourself into the culture is so incredibly rewarding. Once you accomplish that, you start feeling a bit like a local yourself, and when you go home, you'll find yourself referring to your host country as "we" or "my country!" :)