If you’re about to become an international volunteer, lucky you! There’s really nothing quite like heading overseas and utterly immersing yourself in a local community. That said, it’s understandable if you’re a bit apprehensive about how well you’ll fit in – especially if you’re travelling somewhere with a really different culture.
It doesn’t need to be a terrifying prospect though – read on to find out all kinds of ways to make sure you integrate into the community smoothly.
Learn the local language
Now, us UK travellers have a bit of a reputation for heading abroad and speaking nothing but English – and thinking that if we just speak a little more loudly and a bit more slowly, we’ll be understood.
Ok, we might get lucky and talk to someone who understands what we’re going on about, but it’s not the best way to ingratiate yourself with the locals. You’re a guest in their country, so make an effort to use their language. Even if you don’t do it particularly well, the fact that you’ve tried will speak volumes – so give it a go.
You can make things easier by preparing as much as you can before you travel. You could take a short course, for example, or get a friend who knows the local lingo to help you out. It’ll definitely help you communicate more smoothly and make friends faster – which can only be a good thing!
Research local customs and traditions
Another frequent stumbling block when you’re living with other cultures is being unfamiliar with their customs and traditions. This is definitely an area where research before you travel is essential – otherwise it can be pretty easy to accidently offend someone.
For example, if you’re in India and your hosts offer you a flower garland, make sure you accept gracefully; being given a flower garland is considered an honour and to refuse would be disrespectful.
Of course, learning every single custom and tradition before you go might be a bit of a tall order. So, while you’re there, be willing to ask questions if you’re ever unsure – people will usually be only too glad to tell you more about their culture. Plus, it shows you’re interested in them, which will always help you make friends.
Get involved in local life
The next step is throwing yourself into local life. Since you’re taking part in a volunteering project, you’ll probably be doing this already, so you might not need to think about this one too much. Don’t be shy about getting involved in local activities or trying a new type of food – you might discover a new passion!
Don’t cling to your camera
It’s pretty easy to spot a tourist a mile off – they’ll be the ones with the camera, the map and the slightly confused expression on their face. When you’re travelling, that’s you. If you really want to fit in, try to leave the map behind – once you’re familiar with your surroundings and are comfortable doing so – and don’t incessantly take pictures. I’m not saying don’t take any, but having a camera permanently hanging around your neck will mark you out, so try to let the tourist side of yourself go for a few days and just enjoy being where are you and doing what you’re doing.