Lucas Brenner » Articles » How to Get To Know Yourself Abroad

Why You Should Get To Know Other Cultures

Through my semester abroad and my excursion to Kyrgyzstan, I realized that you can get to know yourself better in a foreign culture. By this I don't mean a spiritual journey to your inner self, but that through a foreign culture you are forced to question your own habits, values and norms that otherwise seem normal.

When you go to a foreign culture, you are more likely to recognize what patterns of behavior you have adopted from your home country and what may be problematic about them. For example, during my field trip to Kyrgyzstan, I realized that punctuality is interpreted differently in other cultures.

With these insights, it is important not to make any judgments. Culturally influenced behaviors are not categorically good or bad, but how you interpret them depends on your own values. Which habits you want to adopt or discard is therefore dependent on which values you feel are important for yourself.

Living in a foreign culture has the advantage of removing the cultural constraints of home and replacing them with the curious discovery of a different way of life and attitude. Immersing yourself in another country is like getting a new perspective on life.

Sooner or later, you might get homesick or culture shock – but that's normal and I wrote in another article what you can do about it.

How Do You Immerse Yourself in Another Culture?

In order to fully immerse yourself in another culture, three conditions must be met:

  1. You have to get involved with the other culture and way of life.
  2. You have to spend a certain amount of time in the destination country (at least four weeks in my opinion).
  3. You have to meet new people and, at best, speak the local language.

In short, our mental attitude must be right and we must be willing to leave our comfort zone. You should spend at least four weeks in the destination country, as anything less than that feels more like a vacation and you need time to settle in. Also, ideally you should be traveling alone or with one friend, otherwise you will isolate yourself too much as a group and not get in touch with local people.

It's not easy to immerse yourself in another culture because our comfort zone tries to keep us from doing so. However, with a little willpower initially, it gets easier and more fun over time as you get to know the culture.

There are many opportunities for such a trip. If one is already in professional life, an extended vacation or a sabbatical could be the solution. Sometimes a temporary transfer abroad is also possible. For students, a semester abroad or an internship abroad is a good option. For pupils, there are also exchange programs or the opportunity of a gap year after graduation.

The most important prerequisite is that you mentally commit to something new and are openminded. Leaving your comfort zone is never easy, but it's worth it and you will benefit for a lifetime from the experience of this (short) time.