If you search for travel tips you can find all sorts.
- How to book a flight to save the most cash
- What you pack depending on where you’re traveling
- How to eat like a local
- Where to find the off-beat curioities of a particular area
- Or safety tips depending on when and where you’re traveling
However, there are apects of travel that most people don’t talk about opening. Parts of travel and experiencing a new place can be difficult or a challenge. A lack of preparation for these challenges can make the traveler feel like they are doing something wrong or that something is wrong with them. Intercultural differences can definetly be a form of culture shock and if you aren’t prepared you could start becoming judgemental and closed off to your new location.
So, I wanted to write a post about some of these unspoken travel challenges.
- Space: Interpersonal space is not a universal concept. People from the US are used to having large amounts of personal space, even in a crowd. Our understanding of space and interpersonal space is a cultural concept.
- Silence: Not just silence, but also when is it culturally approprate to speak and when are you expected to be quiet. Silience is a luxury that people living in most cities do not have. When you relocate to a new country or study abroad country you may find people talking when you would normally expect quiet, but noone else around you seems to be bothered by the noise. No, you aren’t alone or the first one to experience a struggle with this issue. Places that I’ve experienced this includes: movie theaters, conference presentations, airplanes, government offices…The funny thing is that when you do a search for “Why are [insert nationallity here] so loud?” You can find an article for almost every single country. Which just proves that its what we’re used to and then someone from another country or culture comes along and violates this norm. How we regulate noise levels or modulate our own voices is a cultural construct. So…here’s a few articles I found that speak to this issue.
- Smiling: Okay y’all. I’m just going to be totally real on this one. Americans are a little obsessed with happiness and a bit too cheerful for the rest of the world (see the article above about us being loud and obnoxious). I mean, we really do smile, a lot. Is everything really awesome?! In your new country strangers probably won’t exhange smiles with you on the street (I still can’t help myself most of the time and that’s okay). But this doesn’t mean that they are being rude to you, its just not part of their cultural practice.
- Table manners: How we eat varies widely from country to country. We use different utenciles and the types of food that we consider to be staples varies. So, it makes sense that the idea of what is rude or not at the table would vary from culture to culture, as well.
- Here are a few articles to help you understand how table manners are constructed around the world:
- Public transportation: Now that you are in the other country, how are you going to get around? What looks like public transportation varies from country to country and you may be missing out on a budget friendly transportation option.
- Alcohol: Buying alcohol around the world or even just from state-to-state within the US, can vary widely.
- Are you old enough to drink? A guide to the min. drinking ages in 190 countries around the world [click here]
- Is drinking even legal where you’re traveling? Here’s 14 countries where drinking alcohol isn’t legal [click here]
- Okay, you can buy it here, but how expensive is it? Here’s a guide to how much alcohol costs around the world [click here]
- Now, you know if its legal, if you’re legal, and how much its going to set you back, but what should you drink? Here’s a guide to the best booze to drink in 43 countries [click here]
- If you’re going to have ‘one drink’ how does the alcohol content vary around the world? Good question [click here]
- Food labels: If you have dietary requirements that make reading food lables a normal part of your shopping experience, you may not be ready for how other countries label their packaged food. (Also, you may want to get a metric converter app for your phone to help make sense of international food lables)
- Operating hours: When are businesses open? In the US we are acustomed to businesses being open early and staying open late with many stores not changing their hours of operation for the weekend. However, this is something that varies widely from country to country and even within a country, if you move from a large city to a small town or village. For example: in the US if a store is open on Sundays it will most likely open later in the day (noon is quite common) and it will likely close early (6 p.m. is still common). However, in South Africa a lot of stores will open at the standard time, but close early.
- Work/life balance: If you are living abroad for an extended period of time you are probably working in a new culture. But working and living in a new country can be very different from working in the US. I’m not fully going down that rabbit hole here, but in general understanding how your new country places work into their overall cultural understanding of life will help you undertand your new neighbors and friends even if you aren’t working directly in the new country (I’m looking at you digital nomads).
Traveling can be fantastic! And anyone who knows me knows that I’m always trying to find yet another way to go abroad. However, its best if you’re aware of the many variances between countries that could catch you off-gaurd. Don’t be too hard on yourself when you encounter a difficulty that you weren’t expecting when you travel or relocate to a new culture. Culture shock is real and sometimes you don’t know when its going to show up!
The items I included in this post were things that I’ve encountered and caused me some stress as I acclimated to my new environment. What did I miss? Please comment with things that were an unexpected culture shock for you when you studied or moved abroad.