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Northwest Missouri State University Study Abroad Office is constantly checking the current travel advisories issued by the US Department of State. Here are listed some of the recommendations that we have given to the student during our outgoing orientation:
After the events of September 11, 2001, airplane travel is noticeably more restricted, and airport personnel are taking more stringent security measures. The following tips should help you have a safer and easier experience flying under increased security. Please be aware the different airports and different airlines have their own security measures that may differ slightly from those mentioned below.
This frustration and confusion is usually called 'culture shock.' Variations of culture shock can affect even experienced travelers and is considered a natural (and perhaps even essential) part of adjusting to a foreign culture. Symptoms can include depression, sleeping difficulties, homesickness, trouble concentrating, an urge to isolate yourself, and irritation with your host culture.
Even if you are used to being away from your family, you may still have problems. After all, you are now away from everything that's familiar. There are numerous ways to combat your feelings of disorientation until they pass (as they usually do):
In sum, since there is almost no way to avoid culture shock completely, you should try to accept it as something everyone goes through. Keep in mind that students returning from study abroad often describe working their way through culture shock as a necessary maturing experience, something that provided insight into their own cultural assumptions. You can ease your transition by recognizing the factors that cause culture shock and taking steps to minimize them.
For most students, the symptoms of culture shock wane after the first few weeks or months, as they begin to understand their host culture better. However, if you find that feelings of irritability and depression linger, you may need help from a doctor or counselor. Your program director or the international students office at your host university should be able to direct you to counseling or support organizations.
Your study abroad experience will be heightened if you try as much as possible to become part of the local social environment. In the beginning, it is perhaps wise to behave like a guest, as indeed you are. For a while you may even be accorded a special status, that of a well-meaning (but not-quite-with-it!) outsider. But as time goes on, you will want to be able to behave in ways similar to that of the local students and citizens-- and others will begin to expect such behavior of you. This means learning what behavior is and isn't appropriate in this new setting, and acting accordingly. Observe local students in your dormitory, on campus, on the street. If you live with a host family, see how family members dress and interact with one other and others. It's fine to ask questions about local customs and ways of behaving. In fact, people will appreciate that you are trying to learn about their culture and lifestyle, and are likely to help you adjust.
In some countries more than others, there is an unflattering stereotype of an American tourist, one who throws money around, drinks too much, is loud and rude, expects all foreigners to speak English, thinks the United States is better than any other country, and is always in a hurry. There are other countries in which all Americans are seen as happy, cheerful, carefree, and above all rich. Locals in your host country may assume parts or all of this to be true about you, simply because you are from the United States. Remember that their images of what 'Americans' are like are based on the other Americans they have seen, if not in person, then indirectly through our movies and media. Such is the nature of stereotyping. The challenge is to go beyond misleading images and false impressions, so that you and they can be yourselves, and mutual understanding can deepen over time.
'When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do' is not legal counsel, but rather seasoned advice to newcomers. Certain ways of acting in a country not your own affront local custom and show ignorance or disrespect, or both to local citizens. In many countries, for example, women traditionally cover certain parts of the body, such as the head, arms, and legs. In others, it is frowned on for couples to hold hands or display other types of physical affection in public. Most countries have customs associated with religion and sacred places. In certain Islamic societies, non-Muslims may not enter sacred sites. In Thailand, Buddhist monks must carry out an elaborate purification ritual if a woman touches them, including sitting next to them on a bus!
Understanding local customs will help you feel a part of the new culture and avoid potentially embarrassing situations. Especially if you are not fluent in the local language, your body language is often what expresses you. Saying hello or goodbye via a simple hand gesture is, for example, done quite differently from place to place, even within Europe. When to shake hands or kiss is signaled between people in different ways from country to country. How close to sit or stand when talking also varies greatly. These are just a few of the many simple habits for you to learn and then follow in order not to give unintended offense.
Brigham Young University's Culture Grams offer many insights on customs and lifestyles of individual countries. Phone 1-800-528-6279, or visit the BYU website at www.culturegrams.com.
Appropriate behavior for young women varies from country to country, and even within countries. Some countries have well-defined gender roles. Others restrict certain activities for women, such as driving and meeting with men who are not relatives. You may find that behavior and dress that are acceptable in major cities are inappropriate in rural areas. Sometimes, though, just the opposite is true, and behavior is more relaxed outside of metropolitan areas.
Observe how local women your age act and dress and try to do likewise. In spite of your efforts, however, you may find that you are harassed. In some countries, women are routinely whistled at, pinched, and even grabbed -- especially foreign women. This may be because, in some countries, the cultural stereotype of western women is that they are promiscuous. You can minimize unwanted attention by taking the following steps:
Dress modestly. Avoid sleeveless tops and short skirts, even in hot climates. Try to dress in the same style as the local women. Avoid making eye contact with men in the street. What may seem to you like simple friendliness might be interpreted as flirtation to a man from a country where women keep their eyes down. Watch the local women; see how they avoid and turn away unwanted attention, and mimic their behavior. Take a friend with you when you go out at night or to an unfamiliar area. In some countries, young unmarried women never go out alone. Arrange a public meeting place when you get together with people you don't know well.
It is advisable to do some reading before departure regarding culture-specific norms of friendship and dating for relationships between people of any sexual orientation in the country where you are headed. Knowing about the culture-specific norms of friendship and dating for relationships between people of any sexual orientation in the country where you are headed is especially essential. Laws regarding same-sex relationships differ from country to country so you should inform yourself about those before your program begins.
Issues regarding sexual orientation are often included in materials prepared by study abroad offices and program providers. Check to see what information is available regarding GLBT issues from the programs in which you are interested. Travel guides, web resources, and your institutional GLBT office can provide additional valuable information.
For a bibliography regarding sexual orientation issues in countries outside the U.S, check the following website maintained by NAFSA: Association of International Educator's LesBiGay Special Interest Group: http://www.indiana.edu/~overseas/lesbigay.