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The international student’s guide to cultural assimilation

Immersing yourself in your new culture is a great way to make the most of studying abroad. Source: shutterstock.com

Moving to a new country for your study abroad adventure is bound to have you filled with excitement, nerves, and anticipation.

You’re likely to be worried if you will make friends, how you will adapt to the new culture, and whether anyone will understand your accent.

But don’t panic… thousands of students just like you move abroad every year and manage to settle in just fine. If you’re worried, follow our tips to help integrate into your new home.

1) Learn some of the language

Learning some basic phrases and words can help make your arrival in your new country less stressful.

Being able to introduce yourself to new people and understanding the basics of what people are chatting about will help you make friends and show that you’re not so different just because you’re from a different place. On top of that, your attempt at learning the language will also go a long way in proving your sincerity in wanting to fit into your new environment.

It will also make you feel safer being able to speak to taxi drivers, shopkeepers and waiters in restaurants. You’ll have more of an idea of what’s what, how much things cost, and you’re less likely to be taken advantage of if they know you understand what they are saying.

2) Get to know the local dishes

No matter where you are in the world, food is a way of showing appreciation for someone’s culture. Most cultures share food in social settings during dinner parties, potlucks or restaurant outings.

If you understand the dishes often cooked in the place you’re going to, you can overcome the awkwardness of not knowing what things are and can show you’re interested in the local life in your new home.

Hotpot… a classic dish in Southeast Asia. Source: Shutterstock

Studying abroad gives you an education that spans way beyond the lecture hall as you can learn about another way of life, and maybe even improve your cooking while you’re at it.

3) Embrace all the weird and wonderful opportunities that come your way

You’re in an entirely new place, so there’s bound to be lots of new and exciting adventures to be had. You might feel nervous if lots of new opportunities present themselves, but this can be a great way to meet people and learn about a new culture.

Learning to horse ride in England? Visiting vineyards in France? Exploring temples in China? These might be things you’ve never done or never thought you would do, but see your international education as an opportunity to experience new things.

By exploring your new countries culture, you can develop humility for different ways of life, broaden your perspective, have a better understanding of the people you meet and, most importantly, begin to feel at home.

4) When in Rome…

… do as the Romans do.

It’s easy to only ever scratch the surface of your new culture if you only hang out with other international students. Try to remember you are there to meet as many people as possible, and by hanging out with the locals you will see your new culture through their eyes.

They will know all the best eating spots, secret weekend getaways and where to get the cheapest beer. Making friends with the locals means they will welcome you into their way of life allowing you to truly understand what matters to them.

Remember, culture is like an iceberg, only the tip of it reveals itself immediately.

You might think you’ve got the culture down just by living there for a few months but when you hang out with the locals, you’ll begin to understand all the little nuances. This will help you to become a part of the community and participate more fully, rather than just observing from afar.

5) Travel around the country on weekends

Don’t forget that different regions of a country often have slightly different cultural quirks. By traveling around to the different cities and lesser-known towns, you will have the unique opportunity to understand how different people live and see what the commonalities are between the areas.

Lots of international students fall into the trap of making friends with a few locals and thinking they understand the entire country. The truth is, culture means something slightly different to everyone. By speaking to people from the remote mountains to the busy cities, you will have a deeper understanding of your new culture, rather than being lulled into a false sense of security.

This will also give you more to talk about when asked what you have done since studying abroad. Everyone has the same stories of visiting the tourist traps in their new country, but by traveling to the lesser known but equally important spots, you’ll show you are genuinely interested in understanding your new home which will encourage people to accept you as a member of their community.

6) Try to accept any differences in thinking, rather than disputing them

There are bound to be some differences you just can’t get on board with. Whether it is how its government treats certain groups, corruption or simply the policies that determine how the country is run, some things just don’t align with your world view.

If this happens, try to take the differences in your stride and accept them as another way of life.

Just because you disagree with something doesn’t mean you are right and they are wrong. Try to understand why these differences exist, whether there are religious sentiments or ideological reasons behind them, and discuss with other people what they think of them.

You might just find that there are important reasons behind the different ways of thinking that you hadn’t considered or learn how to live in harmony alongside people who think differently to them.

7) Remember you are a guest

Yes, it is important to get under the skin of a new culture, but it’s also important to tread lightly. Assimilation doesn’t mean putting your own stamp on the things you learn or try. It can be tempting to tell everyone about what your culture is like but try to remember you are here to develop, rather than see the world through your home life.

When you’re far away from home, it can be comforting to remember how things are in your own culture and romanticise your old way of life. This can take away from the experience at hand and prevent you from truly understanding what is around you.

Absorb as much as you can from your new way of living and allow this to find a place within you. You don’t have to change everyone around you to change yourself, so just focus on being the best person you can be without coming off as too self-involved.

8) Be ready to change

It’s important to remember that living in a new culture will shape who you are. You’ll learn new things, gain a different perspective and ultimately become a more well-rounded individual.

You don’t have totally wave goodbye to the old you, but by being ready to be shaped by your international education experience, you can look forward to growing as an individual. You’ll meet new people, understand different ways of thinking, develop new hobbies and appreciate new things.

If you are open to developing in this way, you will be ready to embrace your new countries culture and become a sponge for all the weird and wonderful things that will come your way. This can seem scary, but as soon as you give it a go you’ll be enriched by your renewed perspective and really get the most out of your study abroad experience.

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