When abroad, you are going to encounter an entirely new culture, way of life, and way of behaving. Therefore, before going abroad it is important to reflect on your own culture. That’s right. You have a culture. Many study abroad students are so focused on the “other” that they don’t realize or stop to reflect on the fact that they too are an “other” to everyone in their host country!
Univeristy of the Pacific explains the importance of learning about your own culture as well as the culture of your destination before going abroad.
Understanding something about how cultures work, the logic behind their behavior, and the values that inform their actions will go a long way in helping you to adjust overseas. Further, you need to understand that US-Americans possess a widely shared and deeply held “American culture,” and that those dominant values are not universally shared nor appreciated. Realizing not only that cross-cultural conflict are likely to occur, but also understanding what it is about US-American values that are likely to cause such reactions, goes a long way to reduce conflict. Moreover, once you understand that cultures have a myriad of ways to solve the business of everyday living, one becomes less likely to see only one way of doing things as “right.”
Once you begin looking for insider’s reasons for behaving a particular way or trying to understand a situation from their perspective, it opens up new ways to interact appropriately in the new culture. The saying, “A mind once stretched never returns to its original shape,” is particularly true interculturally. Once it is understood that all cultures constitute their systems differently and that there are good reasons why, the approach to a new culture is, “That’s interesting. I wonder why they do that?” rather than, “What’s wrong with them, why can’t they do it the right way?” This realization alone will head off many frustrations and lead to quicker and more accurate learning of the host culture rules and the reasons behind them.
Let’s hear some advice from both recent study abroad returnees and foreign exchange students in America on how to “behave” (or not) while abroad.
-Video a part of University of California’s Education Abroad Program (EAP). For more information please contact program personnel.