Category Archives: Travel

Travel Tips: but not that kind

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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.

  1. 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.
    • Here’s a few articles that get into this concept a bit more:
      • “What personal space looks like around the world” [click here]
      • “How personal space boundaries vary in different countries” [click here]
      • “Which countries have the smallest personal space” [click here]
  2. 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.
    • “My cultural noise threshold is being violated” [click here]
    • “Cultural differences in percieving sounds generated by others” [click here]
    • “Why are Americans abroad so loud and obnoxious” [click here]
  3. 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.
  4. 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:
      • “A guide to table manners around the world” [click here]
      • “What proper etiquette looks like around the world” [click here]
      • “Dining etiquette around the world” [click here]
      • “Renaissance table etiqutte and the origins of manners” [click here]
  5. 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.
    • What are the some of the varieties of transportation options?
      • “Around the world in 30 unique modes of transport” [click here]
      • “Top 12 world’s super authentic means of public transport” [click here]
      • “8 unspoken rules of public transportation around the world” [click here]
  6. 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]
  7. 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)
    • “Differences between EU and US nutrition lables go far beyond ounces and grams” [click here]
    • “Food health labels around the world” [click here]
    • “Global plan to streamline ‘use by’ labels” [click here]
  8. 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.
  9. 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).
    • “Working hours around the world” [click here]
    • “The 13 countries with the best work-life balance for expats” [click here]
    • Women in the workforce worldwide (Pew Center) [click here]

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.

 

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The storm before the calm

Accelerated.

That’s the pace leading up to a departure date. So many things to do and many of them cannot be done in advance. As my travel date approaches the list grows and the pace quickens. Until the day of departure, when everything slows, clarifies, and simplifies. Today, the big push is packing.

But I’m not just packing. I’m also re-sorting my closet and culling my clothes for another donation run. Then I’ll sort through the clothes that are left and decide what to store and which ones to take back to South Africa in August.

Once the sorting, culling, and packing, is complete I feel a sense of calm. I know that feeling is coming. However, this time the trip that is coming on Monday will be the eye of the storm because when I come back the big move is happening. I’ll have to finish packing up my apartment and put everything into storage until a future, unknown date when I have an address again.

Its funny because I feel so hectic before I leave, but once I’m headed to the airport everything calms down for me and I’m in my happy space. For a lot of people travel is the hectic piece. In the airport they are scattered and a bit harried. Travel can be confusing and disorienting, but I think that’s some of what I really enjoy about it. I enjoy the fun of discovering new places. My favorites are bookstores, coffee shops, and the perfect vantage point to watch sunsets and sunrises. I don’t buy into the “life is a journey” cliche because the point of a journey is a destination. Is death really the destination of my life? I prefer the cliche that life is music (mostly jazz). We have ideas and pursue those ideas, but so much improve happens along the way. Songs do end. However, the music is the point. The beauty of the piece lies in it being played.

Okay…back to actually packing!

 


Mama’s Got a Brand New Bag

In Just over two weeks I’m headed back to South Africa and Botswana. I’m going to be in Johannesburg for just over a week and I’m spending six days in Gaborone, Botswana for a conference. I’m excited to go, but wanted to go as a single-bag traveler this time, just a backpack and my a purse. Traveling light will make transitioning between four different accommodations in 2.5 weeks much easier.

A couple of years ago, when I traveled to this same conference and then took time to explore Namibia and visit friends in Johannesburg, I went through several backpacks before I settled on a backpack from Tortuga. I really liked that pack and was able to carry enough in it to look professional at my conference and comfortable through the Namib desert. However, there were several drawbacks of that bag. First, it was a little too tall. If I was six feet tall the bag would have been perfectly proportioned, but as it was it was awkward for me to carry. Second, it didn’t have any weather proofing on it. So, I needed to scout out a new bag. I went back to Tortuga and went all in on a bundle they had, which I promptly returned.

Next, I went down the YouTube rabbit hole of professional bag reviewers. (Who knew that was a thing). Then I went to a meeting where someone had a new Eagle Creek bag. And I thought, I should check out the products on their web site. So, I watched videos, looked up reviews on Amazon, and watched videos on how they designed their various bags. After much research and obsessing, I decided on the Gear Hauler. As soon as I unboxed the bag, I was excited to use it. Thankfully, I had a week-long trip just a couple of days away to give the bag a test run.

Here is an inventory of all that I was able to pack in my bag:

  • Five pairs of workout leggings
  • Five workout tops
  • Two pairs of somewhat bulky shoes
  • Five dresses
  • Umbrella
  • Collapsible water bottle
  • Socks, underwear, and hose for five days
  • Sports bra
  • Daily wear bra
  • Toiletries: conditioner, hair oil, deodorant, etc.

The bag was not overly heavy and I could have fit more! I cannot wait to use this bag for international travel. It will easily fit my laptop, adapters, and small notebooks. I’m planning on doing single-bag travel when I lead my next study abroad program too and this bag is perfect.


Meet South Africa

Meet South Africa and discover yourself.

After yesterday, I think my students feel like they are finally meeting South Africa.  Yesterday, we spent the day in Soweto and really saw the city. This was the first time I felt like I had an appreciation for the true span and scope of Soweto.  I’ve had the typical experience in the past of first the Apartheid Museum, then driving to Mandela’s house, taking a tour, and seeing the street performers who make a living from the tourist coming through. Then next it was Hector Pieterson Square.  But this time we took time to spend the day there.   The difference is like an appetizer sampler at a restaurant or sitting for a full meal.


First, I wanted to make sure we had plenty of time at the Apartheid Museum and so we blocked off 3 hours.  Our guide said that we could block off three hours and at the end of the three hours we would still want to come back another day.  I think some students definitely came away with that feeling. There’s an interview with Winnie Mandela that always amazes me. She’s asked by the interviewer if South Africa will ever have one man one vote and without a single hesitation she replied, “Yes.” Interviewer, “Who will be the first black president of South Africa?” Winnie Mandela, “Nelson Mandela.” Period. I believer this interview took place in the 1970s, when Nelson Mandela was still imprisoned on Robben Island. There were no signs then of the Apartheid government falling or letting Mandela out of prison. Her resolute response floors me.

Second, we went to lunch in Soweto at a lady’s house who does this as a business. On the itinerary it was simply labeled “lunch with locals”.  However, it was timed perfectly because I think we all needed this lunch after an intense and emotional morning at the museum.  When you’re in a museum space sometimes you only come away with the heaviness of the past. The oppressor can still reach through the exhibit and grab a hold of you and drag you back.  However, the South Africans that we meet lived through those experiences and are here, now, and looking forward.  The food was expertly prepared. The mamas were so warm and welcoming. After we finished eating we sat in the circle where we asked each other questions (the visitors and the hosts). It was an interesting dialogue. Like everyone else I’ve encountered they wanted to know about Trump…we all felt a little closer with both country’s political situation feeling disconnected from the people in the cities. By the time we left I didn’t realize we’d been there for several hours, but  I think we would have been happy to stay for several more!


The mamas talked openly to use about their experience with the xenophobic riots.  One of them had a migrant worker renting from her in 2014 when violence broke out. She said that she protected the man by telling the guys that they just were not going to harm him, period. This echos what I’d heard from Mama Aziba, when I stayed in the township in Cape Town. It was also interesting to hear how the women are all practicing Christians (some in church some not) but they all also honor/talk to their ancestors.  One lady said, “Why would I forget them? Without my ancestors I would not be here.” True for all of us. I’d asked them if they were Christian and still practiced their cultural traditions.  All of them said some degree of both. If they’d asked me I would not be able to answer the same way because my people assimilated too well.

Once the conversation reached a natural lull the mamas said that they were going to give us Zulu names.  I felt and still feel deeply uncomfortable with this. I talked to our guide about it, but communication was not clear between all the groups and it happened.  I haven’t completely sorted through the many reasons why I find this deeply problematic, but I know I will marinate on this, talk through my thoughts aloud with some friends, and write more about it later.

No matter what, when you leave South Africa you’ll be a different person than when you arrived. 


An “Uber for police” has been launched in South Africa — Quartz

In South Africa, it often feels like the speed at which crimes are committed are inversely proportional to the speed at which police react to them. It’s a major frustration in a country with some of the world’s highest crime rates. A new mobile phone app aims to cut the average police response time. Namola…

via An “Uber for police” has been launched in South Africa — Quartz


Traveling during your PhD

The Thesis Whisperer

This guest post is by Dr Eva Alisic, Research Fellow at Monash University who researches and blogs on the topic of trauma recovery in children and adolescents. Eva spent some time at Harvard University while she was studying. In this post she shares some of her tips for getting abroad. You can find Eva as @EvaAlisic on Twitter.

Are you considering travel during your PhD – such as visiting a research group overseas for a few weeks or months? Excellent idea! In my experience an extended visit abroad while you do your degree is very valuable, both to your PhD and your future career.

Going abroad is one way to get inspiration – especially if your interest in your research is flagging. It’s a good way to learn new things and look with fresh eyes at your research environment and PhD. Of course, travel is an excellent way to expand…

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