What’s the point in going abroad if you only hang out with others from your home country? Your experience will be so much more enriching if you make an effort to get to know the locals and immerse yourself in the local culture.
The key to a fulfilling experience abroad is to get involved in your host community. We’ve got a lot of experience in that department, and we’ve put together six fun ways to jump in, get to know your new stomping grounds, and make your host city your new home.
1) Seek out Volunteer Opportunities
What better way to get involved in your host community than to give back to it? You’ll have the chance to lend a helping hand alongside other passionate locals, and you’ll gain a new understanding of the issues your community faces. And if you volunteer at home, comparing that experience to the one you have overseas will offer you an interesting perspective.
Finding volunteer opportunities can be difficult in some countries, where the concept of volunteering is different or even nonexistent. If so, try to reach out to the local consulate.
- In Germany there’s a program called Meet US, where Americans travel to schools in the area to talk about their lives, customs and experiences.
2) Live With Locals
We always recommend that participants live with local roommates whenever possible. Try to avoid getting a shared apartment with other Americans. Your language skills will not only improve drastically, but your experience will be much more authentic. Your local roommates will be able to give you unparalleled insights into the local culture and share their connections to the community with you.
3) Take a Class
If you’re interning abroad, enrolling in a class overseas can be a great complement to your experience and provide unique insight. Research local universities (or even community learning centers, if they exist) and see if there are any classes available for you to audit. This is a great way to connect with locals, practice your language skills in a different environment, and learn something new along the way.
4) Find a Tandem Partner
Tandem partners — usually young local people interested in meeting foreigners — are a great way to meet people, practice your language skills, and understand the community a bit better. Tandem partnerships often grow into friendships, and partners may even introduce you to their family and friends or invite you to participate in local functions or festivities.
5) Engage in Clubs & Activities That Interest You
At home you probably participate in extracurricular activities or clubs on your home campus. Why not pursue those interests abroad as well? Play in an ultimate frisbee league, join a local rock climbing club, enter a chess competition, or attend a social language/conversation exchange group.
If there’s a nearby university, see if they have special interest clubs that you might be able to join. From hiking to skiing, the possibilities are endless! If such time commitments don’t fit into your schedule, take a stroll through a local park when you have down time and see if you can join a pick-up game.
6) Attend Local Events, Festivals & Ceremonies
It’s exciting to think about attending big celebrations like Carnevale or Oktoberfest while abroad, but smaller, more traditional festivals and events are often the better way to gain true insight into your host community and its culture.
Attending these events with a local will provide you a greater understanding of the meaning of different customs and potentially allow you an inside glimpse you wouldn’t otherwise receive. And once you’re there, don’t just be an observer. Participate! Join in traditional dances, try local foods, and immerse yourself in the experience like a local would.
By the end of your time abroad, you’ll be amazed at the friendships you have made and the strong connection you’ve formed with your host (now more like home!) community. It’s important to nurture that bond.
Once you’re back home, keep in touch with the people you met abroad. Stay connected to the community in any way you can — which can even be as simple as following the Facebook pages of local business or the city.
Share your experience with others. Offer to put future students heading abroad in touch with your local connections. Perhaps there’s even an opportunity to form partnerships between volunteer organizations, schools, or individuals at home and abroad.
Chances are your host community has become like a second home to you, and you are going to want to return someday. Maintaining your connections with the people who made your experience what it was will ensure that your future visit will be just as incredible.