08 Dec How To Be a Traveler and Not Just a Tourist
What first comes to mind when you’re preparing to travel? You’ve bought your plane ticket way ahead of time, have your itinerary ready and organized, and have purchased those last-minute must-haves to squeeze into your luggage. Most importantly, you’re looking forward to maximizing each day you have abroad.
But one of the most special parts of traveling to a new country is the opportunity for cultural immersion. We step out of what’s become our habitual lifestyle and comfort and move into one that is foreign and exciting and sometimes quite confusing. We don’t know these streets or these people or maybe even this language now. It’s both a challenge and a beautiful chance for personal and professional growth.
We’ve all stumbled across interactions with or observations (whether in real life or movies) of those classic tourists who make it very clear they are not locals. Nor are they attempting to blend into their new surroundings! While there is great value in staying true to yourself and sharing who you are with the hosting country, we can search for a balance in delving into the new culture as well and adapting to their customs and way of life to stretch ourselves in the process.
This can seem simpler when we’re abroad for long periods of time. We’re moving to Spain for nine months, for example, so sure, let’s work on assimilating and integrating into Spain’s culture! But where we don’t always consider doing this is when we’re only abroad for shorter periods.
The question becomes: how do we act as an authentic traveler instead of a mere tourist despite our time constraint?
Being abroad always provides enormous benefits and gains, regardless of the amount of time. PINC offers two-week immersion programs and 8-week internship programs. So when contemplating one of these two opportunities, how can we shift our focus from checking off our touristic to-dos and immersing ourselves in the true heart of whatever city we’re in?
Hold Yourself Accountable to Speak the Language
If you’re choosing to fly all the way to Spain (which is an excellent decision, by the way) and commit to a program that is designed for linguistic and cultural immersion, stick to practicing your Spanish as often as you can outside of the classroom! Don’t worry about basic mistakes or embarrassment from your accent or anything else. You will feel more confident and more capable the more you take advantage of those moments to speak their language. The truth is, it can be so easy to slip right into English or get together with American friends, wasting a day in your native tongue. Dare to be intentional in using your Spanish and see the outcomes. If Spaniards reply to you in English because they know you’re foreign, you still have the option to continue communicating in Spanish. And then build a connection with them through their language! Don’t give up. Remember, you don’t want to come home after your program with regrets, wishing you’d spoken more or seized those opportunities amidst Spaniards.
Do Your Homework and Research Where You’re Going
Madrid and Barcelona are notorious tourist hot spots, and while it’s great to hit those must-sees within the city, make sure your research extends outside the box too! As connected as we are online these days, we have many resources for digging deeper and discovering the hidden gems of a place. Join a Facebook group of expats and get some insight from them about less-known but just-as-awesome sites to see while abroad. Reach out to local organizations or friends you know that have studied or taught abroad. If you come into the trip knowing these things, you’ll have more fulfilling days while you’re there since you’ll be experiencing what the locals would do or where they would go. This will contribute to a greater understanding of the culture too. You’ll be able to see Spaniards in environments where they would naturally choose to hang out.
Journal Your Experiences
Journaling is one method for prompting self-reflection. It allows us to jot down what we’re thinking and how we’re feeling. We can keep a record of what activities we’re engaging in every day and what our reactions are to those experiences while tracking our victories and struggles in a new country. Many people attest to the inner change that results from a trip while seeing another part of the world. You don’t want to lose or forget those self-revelations along the way. It’s essential to reflect on the before, during, and after to actually have concrete evidence for yourself of the growth and wrestling in between. You’ll look back on those encounters, amazed at how you overcame and adjusted.
Journaling could be a personal task you do every morning or night. Or you could write a blog and turn it into a chance to share what’s going on with loved ones back home. We all have different spheres of influence, depending on where we come from, who are friends and family are, etc. So, when we can share tidbits of another country or educate our immediate circle on another culture, we are participating in a much wider scope of social and cultural understanding. Tourists may invest in the here-and-now, but travelers have in mind the long-term effect and investment of their time abroad.
Programs abroad are about fun, adventure, and thrill. But they can be even more satisfying when we push past some of the initial wonders and go deeper. Through a commitment to practicing the language, knowing the ins and outs of our location beyond the cliché points of interest, and incorporating daily self-reflection, we can achieve a stronger sense of what it means to be a globetrotter and a global citizen. We get to come home with the assurance of our love of a new place and incredible experiences that will always remain with us.
-Contributed by Maggie Harney