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When you travel there will be cultural happenings—sayings, gestures, history, context, norms—that you won’t notice.
The more research you do before your trip the more understanding you will have when connecting with locals. Here are a few things to research before your trip to get you started:
Table of Contents
Food & Dishes
Try to find at least five popular dishes that you want to try. Research them, their history, and where you can find them while you are traveling.
For some places, this is pretty simplistic. Are you in Peru? Finding a restaurant that serves Ceviche and Lomo Saltado will be very easy.
Will you travel through South Africa? Finding a restaurant that sells traditional Xhosa or Zulu food may be harder—so you need to be more intentional about it. Different ethnic groups in one country might also have different foods, so pay attention and diversify your diet!
Research popular genres, musicians, and music. Listen to the music people your age listen to. Get out your phone and make (or find) a playlist with local music.
Listen to it consistently before you travel even if you are not super fond of it—often enjoying music is like an acquired taste, so that way you’ll be able to enjoy it more once you are there. Research what concerts will be going on while you are there and attend!
This is important because different things have different meanings in different cultures. You won’t want to be unintentionally, unknowingly disrespectful. And remember, this is your job to research this. You are visiting their home, so you adapt. Not the other way around.
You won’t want to be unintentionally, unknowingly disrespectful. And remember, this is your job to research cultural norms. You are visiting their home, so you adapt—not the other way around! Click To Tweet
History & Current Events
It’s good to have some knowledge of these things because they will help you understand the context of the culture you’re exploring.
Here are some questions to ask yourself: What historical and political events do you need to dive into to have more context of the current situation? What topics are sensitive and why? How have different cultures interacted in this country? In an ever-increasing globalized world, most countries are not culturally monolithic.
How has this country been affected by colonialism or neo-colonialism (if it’s a European country, the US, or China, how have they benefited?)? How has the past brought them to where they are today?
You’ll want to recognize where you are in relation to the city to have a greater context about the place. Maybe while you are researching you’ll find places you’d like to go explore—commit to doing this while you are there.
The more geography you know about the country and your region, the better overall understanding you will have. If you are studying abroad in a particular town or city study a map and learn about each neighborhood.
If you’re going to a place where you don’t know the language it will help create even bigger barriers to getting out of your comfort zone.
The more you learn the language before you go the better. If you don’t feel like you have the time, simply commit to learning a word a day or a few common phrases a week. You will thank yourself exponentially when you arrive.
If you are traveling somewhere where English is the main language, but there are other tribal or indigenous languages common in the area, learn some basics in those languages. As English speakers we are accustomed to the world catering to us—do something different. It will help you connect with people once you’re there.
Research what locals like to do!
When looking online what there is to do at your destination, you probably will find a list of touristy things to do—maybe shark cage diving, wine tasting, or visiting global tourist attractions. That’s great. Take advantage of those, learn, and have fun!
But tourist attractions don’t reflect the day to day life of local people.
So if you want to experience a little more of local life, you will have to be more intentional. Look up events locals are going to! Are there monthly food truck festivals? Traditional dance clubs that tourists don’t know about? Are there local festivals and parades?
Search Facebook groups online from the city you’ll be visiting: search the city you’ll be in then scroll through the groups, depending on where you are searching, as you reach more towards the bottom you will pass the touristy pages and may find some interesting groups and events created by locals!
Search [insert city name] followed up with hiking, food, food trucks, entertainment, music, festivals, concerts, parade, fair, events, community, nightlife, dancing, church, mosque, temple, or any other culturally relevant information you come across from your research.
What from this post will you research before your next trip? Drop a comment below.
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