Traveling Abroad? How You Can Better Connect with the Host Community

0072dafBrittany Gibler, ND ’15, majored in Finance in the Mendoza College of Business. Also a sustainability minor, Brittany focused on different forms of sustainable tourism and how it impacted the host community’s participants as part of her capstone thesis. This is the second in a series of blog posts that describes various ways adventurers can contribute to responsible tourism.

We all know the classic American tourist stereotypes: loud, wearing sneakers and a baseball cap, asking for English translation and dollar conversions, complaining about portions, excessively referencing America, posing in front of statues, or wearing British leggings while blocking traffic at Abbey Road. This “Ugly American” is alienating and can be considered rude to host cultures. University students should be aware of these stereotypes and do their best to avoid them in order to fully engage in the host community socio-culturally.

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 3.08.52 PM                                                      The “Ugly American”

As the third tenet of responsible travel, culture is learning about the people and traditions beyond any learning you can do online or in a classroom. Creating a positive impact with the culture is what makes the experience positive for the host community and leaves the most lasting impact on the traveler.

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness -Mark Twain

Problems with Socio-Cultural Pitfalls

As those who have traveled abroad can attest to, experiencing a new culture can often cause many people to cling onto who or what they already know at first. It takes courage to step out of a comfort zone for the first time and engage in conversation in a completely foreign place. After learning how social interactions commonly occur in a different culture, both semantic and non-verbal, it becomes easier to adjust as time goes on.

Confusing Inquisitive with Condescending

Without realizing it, clinging to what is already known can make one seem judgmental of anything new. This is arguably the biggest contention, for example, with the voluntourism model (tourism that combines volunteering, usually on a short-term basis, and typically for a charity). Primarily short-term voluntourist experiences elicit a “feel-good” response and may exacerbate stereotypes of the poor as helpless. Thus, it only worsens external opinions. Furthermore, short-term experiences, especially as a voluntourist, can create a sense of inequity in the cross-cultural relationships. Voluntourists cannot expect to have an inherent sense of privilege when traveling. (Note that I will dive into some of these issues in future blog posts.)

More generally speaking, tourism brings an influx of more congestion and traffic, variety of languages, and crime rates. Sustainable travel socio-culturally requires minimizing these effects by utilizing public transportation, learning the local language, and exercising caution so as to avoid petty crimes. Overall, respecting the local population leads to positive tourist experiences.

Connecting with People

When positively engaging in the local culture, global relationships thrive. It promotes cultural exchange and celebration of local traditions. On the host side, tourism is further developed and encouraged because of the cultural exchange that occurred in the past. For the tourist, a lasting impact after the trip is more likely to occur, which can include sharing local traditions with friends and family, future trips, or donations to areas they truly enjoyed.

Press-Image-_2_-op_2184708bSocio-cultural relationships also help preserve local traditions when people see it respected. One example is going to High Tea in London, which supports a long-time celebrated tradition in the English culture. There is a concern of authenticity in some travel locations when the tourist has a stereotype in mind and the host community indulges the tourist. It is important to respect what is learned of the local traditions and not worry about cultural expectations before the trip. This aspect of responsible travel is important because it celebrates locals and helps create a greater sense of awareness for others and a celebration of differences.

As previously mentioned, the extent of engaging socio-culturally during a semester or summer abroad varies greatly, but everyone experiences this through daily life abroad or weekend travels. To ensure that interactions while abroad are positive:

  • Minimize the stereotype as an Ugly American and doing research in advance.
  • Learn about the history and geography of the city, common cultural practices, and some words in the local language.
  • Avoid petty theft by keeping your belongings in a zipped bag and in front of you at all times
  • Finally, begin to develop relationships with those in your host community by diving head first into the experience and developing relationships, as well as a new understanding of the host culture.london_450

How have you connected with people during your time abroad? Tell Irish Impact about it in the comments below!

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