Everyone Should Have a Cross-Cultural Experience, and Here’s Why
I don't think anyone disagrees with the value of getting out and seeing the world. This way, we can learn about other cultures by engaging with them directly. The quickest and easiest way to see the world is to go on vacation, or take an extended trip. This is a great option, and traveling today is so efficient that it's even tempting to check off multiple destinations in one tour. Traveling like this, though, really only allows you to scratch the surface of what a country has to show you. In a short time, it's likely you may only be able to experience the more superficial things and have the experiences that are designed to be easily accessible to tourists. To really see what the world looks like from another country, you have to live there! On one hand, you might think of teaching English abroad as an exciting experience available only for teachers. I want you to consider the other hand, though: teaching TEFL in a foreign country as an opportunity for people of all educational and professional backgrounds to have a cross-cultural experience. And in addition to learning about the things you would expect to learn (culture, food, traditions, language, etc), there are so many other ways you will grow and change by being immersed in a different country.
I remember how excited I was when I first moved to Italy. I had romanticized Italy in my mind as the place you see in films, and in certain ways, it is that same, historic, picturesque place! But once you start the “behind the scenes” work of getting situated in a country, you start to encounter situations that didn’t require any thought in your home country. Instead, now they require some serious problem solving skills. As you navigate hefty tasks like searching for accommodation and figuring out all the documents you need, but also daily things like grocery shopping, restaurant etiquette, and public transportation, open-mindedness and flexible thinking become very relevant. These situations that are logical in your own language and culture may need to be approached and thought about differently now that you are considering them through a new lens.
Being in a culture that is not your own puts you in a minority position as well. For me, this was a really significant moment that increased my awareness of what it can mean to be outside of the dominant group, which also shed new light for me on my own country and culture. A new perspective like this can also foster greater empathy towards others’ experiences. I also never realized how much I took for granted being a native English speaker until I lived in a country that had a different national language. Being a language learner in a country is very humbling and requires you to focus on improving not only your foreign language ability, but your communication skills entirely as you seek to understand others and to be understood yourself when language is a potential barrier.
Experiences like this can’t be had in your own home where you are completely comfortable and familiar with how things work. These skills are best learned in an experiential way. Regardless of your career path, or what stage of your education you are in, skills like problem solving, empathy, flexible thinking, and enhanced communication are applicable to you. And to learn something well, it’s better to experience it full on rather than just studying the idea in a book. Besides gaining marketable skills like these, through the increased empathy we gain from cultural immersion, we can perpetuate greater cooperation in our circles and become better employees, better students, better friends, and better citizens of the world. Via Lingua TEFL makes you better!