Disclaimer: My study abroad program was a 2 weeklong, UA Faculty Lead program where I went to Germany and Italy. I do not speak German or Italian. I also visited France on my own prior to the program (I do not speak French). So, my experience is different than those who speak the language of the country they are visiting or than those who are studying a language abroad.

The following are tips and guidelines to visiting a foreign country (especially one where you do not speak the language).

  1. Research the Cultural differences between the US and the country you are visiting.

Trying to learn about things you may see or experience that are different than what we are used to in the US can make it easier and less intimidating when you arrive in the country. For example, I had to learn that smoking is a very large cultural difference in Europe. Even though I completely disagree with smoking for personal reasons, it was important for me to understand that there is a big cultural difference there.

2. Make an effort to meet the people halfway.

Understand that you are entering a country where you do not know everything. In my case, I did not speak any of the languages of the countries that I visited. The citizens of the countries we as Americans visit are NOT required to speak English to us or cater to us. We need to make the effort to speak the language. They do not expect you to be fluent or even conversational, but learn “please”, “thank you”, how to order, etc. If you are ordering point at what you want. Use hand signals, for example, if you are ordering one coffee, hold up then number one on your hand. Speak slowly and use as simple and straight forward English as possible. Try to avoid slang terms. And pay attention when they respond.

3. Do NOT make fun of the way people respond to you in English (if they do).

I know this sounds like an obvious thing, but you would be surprised at the things I have heard while abroad. English is NOT the only language, and it is NOT everyone’s first language. Their pronunciations or inflections in the way people speak is influenced by there first language. It is never okay to make fun of the way someone speaks.

4. Do not be rude or make a scene.

Again, this probably sounds obvious, but you would be shocked at the behavior of some Americans specifically. A good rule of thumb is: If you would not say or act that way in front of you parents/grandparents or someone else you respect, then step back and reevaluate your behavior. Do not be so loud. Americans are loud, and a lot of other cultures are not. Do not yell at people if they don’t understand English. Saying it louder doesn’t magically make them understand English.

5. Be open minded.

Try the new food. Go explore the city or cities. Meet new people. But be safe. In the US, we tend to get very comfortable in our routines. Studying abroad gives you an amazing opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone. Do it!