While abroad, there will be no purer experience than interacting with the people there. In your interactions with the locals, you’ll learn something about the culture you could never learn in a book or a class. Here are some experiences students have had.
Argentines are honest. Brutally so. They will tell you if you look fat or if your outfit is ugly. And they will nickname you after your appearances which can be offensive to downright inaccurate. Most of the time they mean this in good spirits and you just have to keep your cool and remember it is a normal practice for them. –Courtney, Buenos Aires
Going to the English Corner (a place for the Chinese to practice their English with native speakers) for the first time was insane. As soon as the locals found out we spoke American English, we became superstars. They asked us question after question, some trivial (Who’s your favorite actor or actress?) and some serious (What do you think about the current state of Sino-American relations?). – Patty, Shanghai
My friend Ben and I went to this bar called U Sudviku. We were talking and drinking some wine when this guy got on the piano in the room and started playing Czech folk songs. Before you know it, the whole room was singing and dancing together. We sang with them and pretended to dance and had an amazing time.- Jeremy, Prague
In one of my classes (Black Urban Studies) we actually had British students from the University of London join our class for the semester, which gave me access to a whole different perspective of race relations. Not everyone meshed together well; some people did seem to clump to specific groups of friends who they just became comfortable with, but in the end it was an incredibly insightful experience.- Bernie, London
I also got some interesting questions from people, particularly once I left Shanghai and was traveling in the countryside. Women asked me about my hair fairly often (which is very thick and tightly curled, worn in twists). A couple of times I had to tell people (politely, but firmly) to not to touch my hair, which diffused what otherwise would have been uncomfortable situations. – Julia, Shanghai
I offered my hand for a handshake about 10 times, instead of giving a kiss. It took me a while to realize and remember to kiss and to get comfortable with that intimacy (even with strangers). –Bianca, Buenos Aires
PAPARAZZI – I will never forget, one day I was waiting for the tram near my dorm, and a middle-age Czech man just walked right up to me and started snapping photos. Even once the tram arrived he tried to follow me onto the tram, but a fellow peer stepped in to try and shoo him away. This was one of those incidents where I just tried to think of myself as a celebrity, as avoiding the paparazzi would just be a normal part of my day. – Patricia, Prague
MISTAKEN NATIONALITY – One night, I was leaving the AUP campus and was waiting for the metro. I had my iPod on and my earphones in and I sat down to wait for the train. While I was waiting, a group of high school aged boys came onto the platform. One of them proceeded to sit on the seat right next to me and began to ask me questions in English and I proceeded to ignore him. After a few questions, he asked, “What are you listening? Japanese music?” Just an example of how I was always mistaken for Japanese while in Europe for better or for worse. – Angela, Paris
MISUNDERSTANDING ACCENTS – I was at a McDonald’s in Scotland. My cashier, charming as he was, had a ridiculously thick Scottish accent, so when he asked me, “Sit in or take away?” I stared blankly for a few seconds before taking a stab at responding. I replied, “Sit in?” Then he said something else, but I wasn’t sure what. So we stood in a confused silence. I wasn’t sure if he wanted the payment yet, so I held the money in my hand. I moved it slowly towards him. Finally, the cashier quipped, “Don’t worry – I don’t bite!” – Michelle, London
LEARNING FROM LOCALS – The most interesting peers to me were the Ghanaians with whom I had class everyday both at UGhana and at Ashesi University. I learned the most from them – about Ghana, Accra, and the life of a 20-22 year old Ghanaian student. We didn’t necessarily mesh well together but I think ultimately we learned a lot from each other, about how different people take on the task (because at times it does require work) of being and living in an element entirely unlike your own.
– Suhaly, Ghana & Florence
CELEBRITY – On the whole, I found Chinese people were extremely welcoming to foreigners. I felt as if they were so proud and appreciative for you to have traveled so far to visit their country and learn about it. They always wanted to take pictures with us, especially if we were traveling the countryside and the rural villages of China. All you would hear was “lai, lai, lai” which means “come” in Chinese. They would run up to you with their cameras signaling that they wanted to take a picture together. Responding to them in Chinese brought even bigger smiles to their faces. They would always compliment me, saying that I was so smart and diligent. It was sort of disappointing to return to the United States and not be given the same treatment. – Jasmine, Shanghai & Madrid