Top Ways to Immerse Yourself in Another Culture

Lexa Pennington's picture

The best parts of traveling internationally is not only seeing new sights but experiencing different cultures. You can learn how people live, work, and play all around the globe. These kinds of experiences inform how you look at the world, build your empathy and understanding, and help you to learn more about yourself, while you’re at it.

Whether you’re a long-term educator or someone who is planning to enroll soon in online classes for social work, teaching, or the like, it’s important to embrace and understand people from backgrounds different to yours. As such, as you travel, look for ways to immerse yourself in other cultures.

Read on for some top tips for doing this on your next trip.

Top Ways to Immerse Yourself in Another Culture

Research and Learn Before You Leave

A good way to get into a culture is to immerse yourself in it before you even leave home. Start by enrolling in some language classes, online or in person (or using an app like Duolingo), so that when you arrive in the new country, you already have the basics down pat.

Spend time catching up on the latest news in the nation you’re headed to, and learn about its history and customs, particularly main events and elements to do with eating, shopping, and getting around. If there are big differences in things like what clothing is or isn’t allowed to be worn in public, or particular regulations around drinking, entering temples, and so on, it’s good to know these things in advance. That way, you’ll be properly prepared and can completely jump into the new experience.

It’s also fun to listen to music from the country, and to try out some traditional cuisine (either purchased from a restaurant or that you make yourself) before you go. Doing this will make the culture shock less intense when you arrive.

Top Ways to Immerse Yourself in Another Culture

Travel Alone

Next, if you really want to immerse yourself in a new culture, it’s best to travel alone. When you’re with other people, those you know well, such as friends or a partner, it’s easy to continue speaking your native language and sticking to your little group. However, when you’re traveling solo, you will be more inclined to put yourself out there and to practice the language sooner. 

While it might be daunting if you haven’t traveled alone in the past, going solo has the added benefit of giving you the chance to sit back, watch, and listen to everything going on around you. You won’t be busy talking to companions; instead, you can notice things about your surroundings and the locals that you wouldn’t otherwise take in. Listen more than you speak, observe everything around you, and don’t be afraid of getting lost — this can be a brilliant way to find the “real” parts of a city or suburb. 

Top Ways to Immerse Yourself in Another Culture

Get to Know Locals

Speaking of locals, one of the best ways to really start to feel at home in a new country is to get to know the locals. Chat with your cab driver, the workers at the restaurants you go to, local artists and shopkeepers, tour guides, market vendors, and anyone else you encounter. Attend festivals, sporting events, and other local outings, too, as this will show you the real heart and soul of a location, and you’ll have the chance to see hundreds or even thousands of locals enjoying their culture en masse.

Ask people for recommendations for things to do and see that only locals know about, and see if you can strike up a friendship. Volunteering is also helpful, as it means you get to know locals in a setting where you immediately have something in common. It also, of course, allows you to give back to those in need and to learn about an often-hidden side of the culture. 

The more you chat with local people, the faster you will be able to learn about proper ways of interacting there. You’ll also get a glimpse into people’s daily rituals. It pays to embrace everyday activities when you’re somewhere new, too. For example, go to a grocery store, send some mail to people back home, go to the laundromat, and so on. These errands can be tricky at first if you’re battling a new language and/or different ways of doing things, but they can help you to learn the quirks of a culture and to pick things up much sooner.

Top Ways to Immerse Yourself in Another Culture

Don’t Stay in Hotels

Lastly, if you really want to experience authentic culture, don’t stay in hotels. These tend to give a homogenized version of a place, and once you’re inside, typically make you feel like you could be anywhere in the world. Instead, try to tee up a homestay, where you get to live with locals, or utilize booking sites like Airbnb, where you can stay in someone’s home in a more residential area. Be a traveler, not a tourist.

Top Ways to Immerse Yourself in Another Culture