Here at Real Life English we believe that a cultural exchange, formal or informal, can broadens one’s mind in a number of ways.
Initially, you are going to have to learn a new language, which can be a very scary experience, especially if you go to the country without speaking a word of the native language.
Once you break that barrier, you are going to start seeing your new home through new eyes. Different cultures will open you up to new ways of life, and you’ll see that things are not always done the way you’re used to doing them.
Since travelling and experiencing new cultures, I have learnt so much about the world and it has definitely given me a new perspective on life.
Today I would like to share with you my story of my Brazilian exchange and give you some useful tips on how to make the most of an intercultural exchange.
I went to a “roda”, a circle where people play capoeira, and I remember being totally mesmerized by this amazing rhythmic movements and chanting music that made me feel as if I had been transported to Brazil in an instant. It was something I had never seen before. I became so excited and interested in this new martial arts that I started training immediately.
The more I researched about Capoeira, the more I found out about Brazilian history and culture. I had always known that I wanted to travel, but with this new experience I knew that Brazil was definitely number one on my travel agenda.
In 2005 I decided to book my trip. Through my capoeira group in Australia I was able to organize some cheap accommodation, cheap meaning free and accommodation meaning on the floor of a capoeira gym.
On arrival to Belo Horizonte, the city I live in nowadays, I was faced with the first cultural difference of many, the guy who was supposed to pick me up was 2 hours late.
There I was, a young Australian foreigner who spoke barely a word of Portuguese, didn’t have anyone’s contact information, and was pretty much lost in downtown Belo Horizonte on dark and rainy night. It was at that point when violent images from the movie “Cidade de Deus”(The City of God) started running through my head and I thought to myself, this is going to be a real exchange experience!!
TIPS ON MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR EXCHANGE EXPERIENCE
When partaking in any exchange experience, whether it’s an organized exchange at a language school or more of a lone ranger adventure like I chose, you have to establish that your priority is to learn the language and culture.
1. Join a social or sports club
Before going to your exchange destination do some research on typical and/or traditional activities people do in that country. If you go to Canada maybe you could try joining an ice-hockey team, If you go to Australian you could join a swimming club or a surf lifesaving association.
The point being, that when you’re involved in some kind of club, you are going to meet a lot of people and you’ll break away from all the other foreign students. It’s very easy to meet new people at an English school, but if you’re hanging around other foreign students all the time you won’t learn anything about the culture of that country.
From my experience in Brazil, Capoeira was the best thing I could do. Besides meeting a lot of cool people, Capoeira also involves singing which helped me enormously with my pronunciation, and its connection to other traditional environments such as Samba, Forro, Ju Jitsu etc. For any Gringo wanting to immerse themselves in Brazilian culture, I’d definitely recommend Capoeira.
2. Don’t be afraid to look like an idiot
Accept that you are going to pass through many embarrassing situations, it happens to all of us.
In the first few months of living in Brazil I called many men women, mistakenly used profanity in unacceptable situations and I even thought that an elderly women was trying to rob me when she was just politely offering to hold my backpack for me on the bus.
The only way you re are going to grow and adapt to your new world, is to pass through these awkward and embarrassing moments. Go with the flow!
3. Be open minded and tolerant
Adapting to a new culture can be a challenge. You are going to get the initial culture shock, as to be expected in any country, but you may also find it difficult adapting to the lifestyle and the way things are done in that country.
Like I said in my first Brazilian experience, it took a while for me to get used to the punctuality. I felt unsure of the reasons for my friend’s lateness, was he angry that he had to pick me up? Was I being a nuisance? I later found out that he had been at a bar with some of his buddies and simply lost track of time.
These kinds of situations are going to happen to you a lot until you get the hang of how things work. When learning the language, people will probably laugh at your mistakes, you may feel like people are saying bad things about you or aren’t treating you with respect. Let me tell you, in these situations you’re probably 9 times out of 10 WRONG.
A foreign environment is going to leave you a little insecure, untrusting, and vulnerable to these types of situations. Just relax and remember no one is going to treat you badly if you have a good attitude and when in doubt, just smile and nod!
CALL TO ACTION
What are you waiting for? The time to experience the world is now!
Think about a foreign country or culture that has always interested you, and start doing some research. What is it that you like about that country? How can you immerse yourself into that culture without having to rely on fellow students or travelers for company?
If you have already had a cultural exchange experience we would love to hear about it and we’re sure that your story and tips could really help others and inspire them to take the plunge and set off on their own intercultural adventure.
Please feel free to share your story at the comments section of this post, or share it with our awesome facebook community, Real Life English Facebook Community.
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