Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Stranger Danger?

Written by: Kristen Sanders

My biggest tip when traveling: talk to people.  It can be so easy to get sucked into the new and exciting sights, smells, and sounds around you.  Celebrate this!  Enjoy it.  Just don't let it consume you.

One of the drawbacks about Harlaxton for me was that it's for all American students.  This is wonderful in some ways because you're all so excited about these new experiences surrounding your every move.  You become a framily (friend family) but at the same time you often miss your family and friends back in the States.  Together you revel in the things that are different from back home like exchange rates, different brands, cheers, biscuits, lifts, chips/crisps, etc. You create memories in different countries together that you literally could've never imagined.  These are wonderful things!  However, we don't get to spend time with students from the UK.  We don't get to compare "universities" and the differences with the local students as we become great friends over the course of a semester.    

I think back to my home campus in the U.S., the University of Evansville, and our international program there.  I lived in the international building and got to spend time with people from all over the world.  At UE, it is easier to meet Americans and get to know them.  Harlaxton does have a program called Meet-a-Family that is a great way to integrate yourself into the culture and get to know some people over the semester, however you don't see them as often as I saw internationals back at UE.  Don't get me wrong, I love UE and I love Harlaxton, the international programs are just designed very differently, each with their own "pros" and "cons."

Tourist Talking Tips:

To alleviate this difference at Harlaxton, my advice is to talk to people whether natives or tourists.  All our lives we've been taught not to talk to strangers, but I actually encourage you to do so.  Let me clarify.  Be smart about it…we don't want another installment of Taken on our hands… 

Another word of advice: people instantly recognize that you're not British (or French or German… or any other group for where ever you're traveling) as soon as you open your mouth.  Generally, people are nice and quite curious, which makes a great basis for conversation. 
So you say, "great Kristen, I understand where you're coming from but I'm not sure what I'd say!"  Have no fear!  This is even possible for the shy traveler.  Here are some ideas to get you started:
Sometimes others will start the conversation.  In this instance, answer the question asked or reply to the comment at hand.  Try to keep the conversation going!  Once they hear you speak, often they'll ask you where you're from. You can ask questions like:

  • if they're from the area or elsewhere
  • what their favorite thing to do is in town
  • something you can't miss when you're visiting their city for the weekend
  •  where they've traveled
  •  their favorite place they've visited
  •  their life in the town or city
See what the similarities and differences are that they offer. 

Other times you will need to spark up the conversation.  If you can tell they're a tourist, begin by asking where they're from, and roll from there with similar questions stated above.  If you can't tell where they're from, try something safe such as what would you recommend to do for ________ (fun, coffee, food, etc.) around here?  See what happens from there! 

In any case, listen to what they say, have a give-and-take conversation where you both contribute and let the conversation take its natural course.

Personal Accounts:
Sometimes talking to strangers works really well, and you can have conversations that lead to new friends.  For instance, I was able to talk to some girls in Cambridge who were from Budapest and Romania.  The conversation started about ramen noodles and went everywhere from music to travel and they even suggested a really neat museum to go to in Cambridge.  Another time I had a two hour long chat on the train ride to Edinburgh with a fascinating woman.  She speaks seven languages, hosts a radio show, lived in the 21st century without electricity for a year in the countryside, and teaches classes on meditation.  I kept finding myself wanting to know even more about her and her adventures through life.

Other times the people you talk to may not speak the same language and you go through an awkward shuffle to apologize, get a little flustered because you then realize that they don't realize you're apologizing, and try to smile your way out of it (oh, wait… that may just be me…).  Anyway, my point is there's no perfect way to do it, but the point is just to do it!  The photo opportunities at each place you visit are (almost) always there, but the people are ever changing.  People make up the experiences.  Get yourself out, take a chance, be smart, and get out of your own bubble and engage with the people around you no matter where you are in the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment