Saturday, December 8, 2012

5 Ways to Immerse Yourself in Local Culture

Time for another Blog Carnival!

Carol at Girl Gone Travel is the host this time around, so please also check out the other carnival posts! 

I used to teach English as a Second Language and these tips pretty much overlap with what I recommended for my students because the best way to learn anything is to just jump right in and immerse yourself!

Rule #1 - Get Over Yourself

Me in a fez in Marrakesh, Morocco looking ridiculous
Yup, you're going to have to drop your ego off and be prepared to look silly now and then. You're learning/trying new things so you won't fit in right away. However, if you have a really open attitude and not worry about how you look or sound, people recognize and reward effort. You stand a much higher chance of being accepted if you are not uptight or sensitive about everything. Don't try to be perfect - the fact is, no one else is really caring or watching. It's true!


Rule #2 - Watch TV from that culture

I always told my students to listen to the radio and watch TV (that's how I won the favorite teacher award! Joke) because not only is it in the target language which helps for learning, but because it provides valuable insight to how those people think. You can learn a lot about the values and humor of a people from their media. Yes, some is over the top and stereotypical, but it still gives you some clue (and it's easy and fun!). Not only that, but you can most likely get a head start by watching from home (on the Internet maybe) before you go, and keep the memories alive after you return.

Rule #3 - Find a lover

That sounds cliche, doesn't it? But it works! Sure, a local friend is good, but nothing makes learning about another culture more fun than a romance! You also automatically get a whole new group of friends to hang out with as well!

morocco arabic coke and sprite by solowomantraveler
These aren't hard to figure out!
 Rule #4 - Go OUT

Don't be shy, be a social butterfly! Go out and ride local transportation, get lost, get out of the tourist zones (consider safety) and try a little of all the local foods you can find. I love going to grocery stores and looking at the products. The less I understand about what it is, the more likely I am to buy it. I'm not even sure what I've eaten and I'm still alive! You don't have to like everything, but you should at least try everything!

Rule #5 - CouchSurf

Nothing immerses you more in a local culture than actually living with a local family. I highly recommend CouchSurfing for that (tips here and here). On more than one occasion, CouchSurfing has made my travel experience WAY better than anything I could have accomplished on my own. Locals help you avoid the tourist traps and get immersed in the authentic side of daily life.
Even if you're not comfortable staying on a stranger's couch, you can join just to attend public activities/meetings and you'll meet tons of people that way. Often tourists will get together and check out sites as a group, so if you get tired of being a solo woman traveler, you can always join up with a CouchSurfing group for a day.
(One caveat: don't just join Couchsurfing to score a freebie. See if you agree with the whole philosophy and then decide if it's for you or not. Us Couchsurfers really care about our community!)