So you’re finally abroad…Woohoo! While the majority of what you feel is elation and a heaping helping of wanderlust there are also some accompanying fears. One of the most common fears is looking like a tourist or standing out in a presumably negative way. It is important to remember that wherever you go you are a guest in a different culture, so be respectful and mindful of that.
How you present yourself is the first thing anyone anywhere will form an opinion about, so it’s of considerable importance that you are mindful about your appearance. First things first, keep the sweats and university t-shirts at home. That kind of attire is what has perpetuated a rather unflattering stereotype of Americans abroad. Step your fashion game up a little. You don’t need to have the latest trends or buy a whole new wardrobe, but a fresh put together look is always in fashion. Along with that, be aware of what each culture deems respectable clothing in certain situations and in general. For example, in some cultures ladies are expected to cover their shoulders and gentlemen to remove their hats when in churches. A little research ahead of time is always recommended.
Take an abundance of photos while abroad. It’s great to see a picture of that one magical night you and your friends took a midnight walk on the streets of Paris and be transported right back to that moment. Those pictures are snap shots of moments that you can treasure forever, but there is no need to be inconsiderate or disrespectful in order to capture a memory. Remember you might be studying abroad but there are people all around you going to work, running errands and living their daily lives.
The best thing you can do is research common practices ahead of time. In some places it is considered rude to eat with your left hand, and in other places speaking over a hush tone on the train will get you a very angry “shhh.” Each culture has different table manners, ways of addressing people and so on. Keep in mind you may not understand or agree with the logic of these cultures, but you must respect them. Adopting these new norms will surely make your life easier and less awkward. Besides, what’s the point of going abroad if you only stick to the same habits you practice at home.
There is a lot more that you learn about not looking like the ultimate tourist abroad but these are some good points to consider. You’re going to embarrass yourself at some point and that’s okay. It’s a learning process. Research and talk to people and be aware of yourself and your actions, and you’ll begin to understand how to function in your new environment.