There are countless classes, books, articles, and people that will claim they can teach you how to assimilate into a culture. However, I’ve found that the best way to learn is to just go and experience it first hand. These are my top 5 tips for adapting to and learning a new culture once you’re there!
1. Be Neutral. In order to truly learn a culture, you have to shed any prior bias or judgments you might be bringing to the table. This can be one of the hardest things to do, since often we are unaware of our perceptions and tendencies. The best thing to do is not judge. Anytime you catch yourself thinking negatively about the way people act, the things they eat, their values, etc. just take a step back and consider how differently everyone sees the world. There is no right or wrong, just different ways of living life.
2. Roll your Rs. In other words, learn the language. If you are traveling anywhere, chances are that the native language where you’re staying is not going to be English. Take the time to learn the language, and show people you are interested in their culture. Even if you sound completely foolish, if you make a genuine effort to speak their language, people will be happy knowing that you appreciate it. Plus, it can be pretty endearing – like when you’re trying to roll your Rs while speaking Spanish to your new friends in Barcelona.
3. Make Friends. This is without a doubt the best way to learn about a culture. Get to know the people who actually live there, don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and introduce yourself. When was the last time you ever were annoyed with someone trying to learn more about you or where you came from? People are more than willing to tell you about their lives and teach you about their culture, so just talk to them!
4. Be Uncomfortable. There are going to be things that you are not used to, but instead of avoiding new experiences you should embrace them. It’s okay to be uncomfortable; in fact it is one of the best things that you can ever do. Maybe the thought of eating a worm makes you feel a bit sick to your stomach, but when you’re in Namibia and they offer it to you as a gift because it’s one of their countries dishes – you eat that worm with a smile. When you face uncertainties head on, you learn how well you really can adapt to and learn a new culture.
5. Above all, be curious. You have to want to learn about another culture, or you never will. Watch people, marvel at the simplest things that are new to you. Embrace new lifestyles and culture with wonder and curiosity, and you will find that you are learning things and shifting your perspective without even knowing it.
Sarah is the owner of The Travel Project, a blog dedicated to providing budget trips and travel tips. Due to her extensive travel experience, Sarah has developed the skills to plan extremely cheap and authentic trips that she is now sharing daily for anyone to take. She hopes to create a more tolerant and positive world by making travel more attainable to others. At only 22, Sarah has already been to over 42 countries and 108 cities. She began her own personal travel journey when she left home at 16 to sail around the world. Her experiences fueled what has become a lifelong commitment to travel.