Advice given for studying aboard


Leaving the sass at home 
can heighten your experiences

For the contemporary student traveler, the polite way to approach a native Italian is by saying, “Buona sera, può parlare in inglese, per favore?” or some derivative of that, rather than, “excuse me? Do you speak english?” When visiting a foreign country, it is important to associate respectfully with another culture in order to avoid ugly stares and rude encounters. In today’s global economy, proper etiquette is a top priority for those seeking more than the stink eye from a foreign passerby.

Thomas P. Farley, manners expert and former editor of Town & Country magazine’s “Social Graces” column, knows from experience that refusing proper etiquette when abroad can create a bad trip. Farley, who has traveled throughout most of  Europe, including other continents like South America and Antarctica, confirms the importance of first impressions.

“You are an ambassador of your country … people are going to form their impressions of  Americans on your actions,” he said.

Consider the stereotype of the “ugly American,” the loud, obnoxious tourist who demands attention, is rushed, and possesses many other undesirable qualities. according to Farley, one of the core reasons behind the existence of manners is “they help us get what we need and what we want.” and typically, what a tourist wants is a good trip, so it’s important to shake off the “ugly American” mindset.  Here’s how:

No. 1 Battle language barriers  with key phrases and social grace.

Regardless of what many Americans believe, not everyone speaks English, so it’s the tourist’s job to practice basic conversational skills before strutting off the plane and into a foreign land — it’s just good manners.  according to Farley, there is no reason not to know a few some key phrases, especially with today’s technology.

“Realize that you are setting an example … if you act with grace, consideration, acceptance and interest in them … you’re going to help turn around the perception of the ‘ugly American,’” Farley said. “Grease those wheels of social interaction. you’re much more likely to get assistance, help and support from other people in a foreign place when you are being kind and considerate of them.”

Battling the language barrier with some attempt at using the native language is like extending a bridge of kindness across the ocean. It can create more memorable experiences.

Mount Mary senior and business professional communication major, Mari Maldonado, has traveled abroad to Europe three times visiting Paris, Rome, Florence, Venice and more. She has developed a sincere love for all things Roman, especially the language. On each excursion, Maldonado recognized one major misconception of American tourists — they expect everyone around them to speak English.

She explained, “Oftentimes Americans, rather, are under the belief that we want or expect people when visiting our country to speak our language or have an understanding of how we do things here, and I think it’s just proper when you travel abroad to do the exact same thing.”

Attempting the language and understanding the culture of a foreign country can enhance your trip immensely, according to Maldonado. “It means a lot to individuals when you just try,” she said.

Farley agrees and takes it a step further, encouraging travelers to consider the various connotations associated with words. For instance, the term “gringo” in Mexico can be derogatory, whereas in Costa Rica it simply means white person. Know as much as possible about the culture before getting upset.

No. 2 Establish realistic expectations  with less patriotism.

Realize prior to planning a trip abroad that what happens in Europe (or elsewhere) does not necessarily coincide with American life or movie dramas, according to Maldonado.  And having a better idea of what it was that brought forth the desire to travel can help ground those expectations.

For instance, “a lot of times when Americans travel abroad, we have a sense of wanting our Starbucks coffee the way our Starbucks coffee is served [here],” Maldonado said. “When you walk into the closest coffee shop, around the corner of your convent in Rome, you’re not necessarily going to have the exact same experience.”

After accepting that things will be different, embracing the culture fullheartedly becomes a much easier task.

The lack of toilet seats in europe is a good example of what might set off the American attitude of “we are so much better and you guys are savages because our country has this and your country does not.”

Farley said, “Drop the chant of ‘U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!’ unless you’re at a soccer game or something. Because if you’re at a bar and meeting new people for the first time and you just start spouting off on how the United States of America is the best country in the whole wide world and nobody can touch us, well guess what, you’re not going to make lots of friends.”

Leaving the patriotism behind and adapting to the situation, internally and externally (don’t wear the American flag as a t-shirt), will help you blend in. Using the bathroom is not a luxurious thing, according to Maldonado, so just use it, get out and move on to more tasteful things like exquisite architecture.

No. 3 Embrace open-mindedness  and drop preconceived notions. 

Obviously, have common sense when attempting something new, but for the most part, “you never know what you’re really going to love if you don’t try it,” Maldonado said. The whole premise behind traveling is to experience the unknown and embrace new concepts.

“You might encounter things completely foreign to you or seem backward to you … But you’re there and this is not the time to stir up dissent about something you see as an injustice. you need to respect what those local customs are,” Farley said.

Maldonado laughs now when fellow students “freak out” about the lack of toilet seats. “Think of how expensive it is, especially in public spaces. Think about how much we spend on toilet seats,” she said, regarding the monetary value that europe would have to pay to supply toilets seat for all its tourists.

Farley and Maldonado both suggest not ruining a trip over minor league differences such as the one just mentioned. “You are doing a disservice to both yourself and to the people you’ll be meeting when you travel if you go with a completely closed mind,” Farley said.

“If this is the circumstance, you are better off not traveling abroad or even venturing out of your own zip code,” Farley continued. “We don’t want every culture to be just like us because it would be a pretty boring world if it were.”

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