Embracing Culture Through Communication
Traveling to a new country can be very nerve-racking. You often think to yourself ‘will I stand out?’, ‘will the culture accept me?’. These worries are valid since they may determine how well your experience goes. I find my self getting the best experiences from how I socialize with people especially the locals. It is amazing how much you can learn from an individual about the area and the culture you are in. I always enjoy speaking to locals and hearing their perspectives and recommendations for that area.
Prior to my IBS Summer Europe Seminar, I was excited to travel with a large group of people from similar backgrounds. I knew I wouldn’t have a hard time making connections. However, I knew to really understand the culture it would be best to diverge from the large group and explore with just three or four other people. In European countries especially it is very common to see large tour groups and associate those people as the average tourists. From experience and my own biases, I know that tour groups can be overwhelming to locals and therefore reflect negatively.
Communication is key
The way you communicate across cultures is very important. If you are an inexperienced traveler, I would recommend doing research on verbal and nonverbal communication styles for the places you are going. This will help ease culture shock if you get it and help you fit in. My trip to Europe was not my first, so I was aware of some differences from US styles of communication. Though, I did travel to a few countries I had never been to before; including Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. For these places, I did some research such as basic phrases in the common language, the way people dress, and how they act depending on the occasion.
Communication is not just speaking to people, it can include your attire, your mannerisms, your tone, and formality. While all these things are unique to you and showcase your personality, they may be abrupt or not welcoming in another culture. Therefore, it is beneficial to know other cultures’ communication norms, so you don’t offend anyone.
Finding Common Ground
It is very helpful when you find someone new to talk with, to find commonalities, this creates a stronger connection and provides content to talk about. People socialize best when they feel comfortable and supported. So, when communicating yourself to others be courteous and refrain from talking about sensitive subjects until you comfortable doing so. This is something most people do anyway in their own culture but is more important across cultures since there are so many differences.
There was one night in Austria, where myself and four of my IBS friends went out to eat and later looked for a small pub. We found a very small hole in the wall kind of place that seemed to only be known by the locals. I was approached here by a gentleman who assumed I spoke German, I do not. I told him I spoke French and he happened to also, so we sparked up a conversation. This was such a cool experience for me because I was able to practice my language skills and I found it very cool that I was able to speak to an Austrian in French. During our conversation, he suggested many things to do that tourists usually don’t know about.
An authentic experience
The next day we went to a spot he told us about, it was a beautiful beach area along the river in Innsbruck and there was a hiking trail nearby which we explored for a while. There were very few people there, so we had the scenery to ourselves. We finished our day by going to a traditional Austrian restaurant that was also recommended to us. At the restaurant, we were serenaded by a guitarist which made our experience of the culture even better. This day was such a unique experience and I will always remember it.
In my case knowing French was a commonality that helped me experience the culture on a deeper level. It is my suggestion for anyone traveling to a new place to socialize as much as possible and know how to communicate well. Doing this can take your international experience from typical to a trip you’ll never forget.