Cross Cultural Engagement | Study Abroad | Yale University
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Cross Cultural Engagement

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In order to make the most of your study abroad program, it is important to prepare for meaningful interactions with the people who call your study abroad location home. Cross Cultural Engagement refers to the ability to understand people from different cultures and engage with them effectively. Preparing to be immersed in your new environment will help you navigate these interactions and manage your expectations before and during your experience.

TOC: Strategies to Prepare You for New Experiences

Research Your Destination

The more you learn about your host country, the better prepared you will be to engage in meaningful experiences. We encourage you to research such aspects as the local history, politics, economy, cultural celebrations, and climate.  Resources can include:

  • Diversity Abroad: Country Guides
  • Pre-departure guide from your study abroad program
  • Guidebooks 
  • Local newspapers or radio stations
  • Novels or non-fiction books from local authors
  • Movies 
  • Local radio stations or podcasts

Recognize the Adjustment Process

It is normal to go through an adjustment period when studying abroad. You might cycle through these phases at different times, and not necessarily in linear fashion.

Common Phases of Adju​stment

  • Honeymoon Period: Excitement about being in a new culture.
  • Culture Shock: Feeling a sense of unease or unfamiliarity with how or why things “work” the way they do.
  • Initial Adjustment: Becoming more familiar with daily life in the new culture; if studying language, feeling more confident about your communication skills.
  • Isolation: Feelings of homesickness; experiencing frustration with accomplishing everyday tasks; missing social cues.
  • Acceptance and Adaptation: Greater ability to navigate the new culture; understanding habits, customs, food, and establishing ties within the community.

Observe Your Environment, Be Curious & Ask Questions

What do you notice about your program location? What sparks your interest or puzzles you? You can begin to immerse yourself in your program location by walking around popular areas of the city or town, using public transportation, sitting in a cafe, and/or talking with the program staff shortly after arrival.

Observing and experiencing daily life in a new location is a useful way to learn more about people and how other cultures engage with their daily lives. Write down a brief account of interactions or behaviors you find interesting and then ask someone local for help in decoding what you’ve seen. It can spark really enlightening conversations. Done in the context of journal writing, it can also form a record that you can revisit in the future when you've had some time to process all of the "newness" of your study abroad program.

Take the opportunity to approach your new environment around you with curiosity. You might be surprised at what you learn about yourself and others when you give the experience your full attention. Visit sports events, the local tea house, markets, religious services, and other spots typical of the location where you will be.

Be Humble & Suspend Judgement

Listening to what people have to say, and assuming that there are logical reasons why people do things the way they do, can go a long way towards creating positive relationships across cultures. Understanding that there are valid ways of doing things that may be different from your own can help bridge the gap between cultures.

Keeping an open mind is one of the best strategies for a productive and enjoyable time abroad. One of the characteristics of moving from one culture to another is irritation with what appears to be the absurdities of local practice, from sorting out bus fares to deciphering gender relations. Of course, these are not absurdities, but cultural differences – to be observed, examined, understood, and ultimately even appreciated. Our experience with travel may not prevent an initial sense of annoyance, but it is useful to conscientiously and systematically consider how our judgments are, in fact, quite often attached to our own cultural values.

Consider a Global Mindset

Regardless of where you call home, as a Yale student, you have had the experience of studying in a privileged institution within the U.S. – one with significant financial resources, academic freedoms, civic involvement, and prestige. While abroad, you may encounter communities which appear to have less in the way of these resources, and it can be tempting to equate such differences with cultural “lack” or poverty. However, time abroad can be an opportunity to rethink your own understanding of privilege and power. Even the least-advantaged among us in the U.S. are extraordinarily privileged materially (and politically) by global standards and understanding this dynamic can inform how you understand attitudes towards U.S. Americans abroad.

Link: Check out these Intercultural Competency Resources:

Reflect on Your Experiences

Reflection on time spent abroad is one of the most important elements in making the experience worthwhile. It is possible to spend months abroad without breaking out of an expatriate community or gaining intercultural competence. Think about your goals before you go and spend time each week either writing privately, talking with a new friend, or documenting in creative ways what you’ve been experiencing. No matter the approach, take the time to step back and reflect.

Link: CAPA: Tips for Keeping a Journal of your Time Abroad