Adopt your study abroad host country’s culture

By Timothy Tateossian | Guest Contributor

Studying abroad is an exceptional experience I hope no student misses out on. As I reflect back on my own experience, listen to other students share their’s and interact with students who are currently abroad themselves, I have noticed a unique factor that differentiates my experience compared to other fellow study abroad students.

Not to be misunderstood — I am not saying there is a right/wrong or good/bad way to study abroad.

While my fellow study abroad classmates immersed themselves in their host culture, I wanted to know what happens when an extra step is taken. Rather than merely being immersed in a new culture, what about actively adopting a new culture?

Most other students I have interacted with kept their home culture as they immersed themselves in the country they visited. In trying to make ones’ home culture fit into the sea of difference abroad, they sought for pools of familiarity. Despite this, homesickness came, and halfway through the semester, they were missing home and it’s culture.

As I witnessed laments of homesickness echo off the walls of my classrooms abroad, I thought “Why are they homesick already? I don’t feel homesick – quite the opposite actually! What makes them so but not me?”

Then I realized. I didn’t take my home culture abroad, but rather I adopted my host country’s culture when I studied at Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea.

When you adopt your host country’s culture, you will always feel at home because you are where your newly adopted culture’s home is.

So what changes when you adopt versus immerse? In my experience, an entire new worlds fly wide open.

When my host family’s eldest son’s cousin invited me to church, I readily accepted, but I really had no clue what exactly I was getting myself into.

Visiting the church once was quite an experience, a great example of cultural immersion. However, I actually started attending the church. Once the church realized I was intent on attending, I was treated like a valued church member. I invited myself and was invited to church events; the friends I met there became like a second family to me.

As I interacted with my church friends, and I started picking up new hobbies. I did the things they did, went to the places they went, listened to the music they listened to, played the games they played, watched what they watched and ate the things they ate.

As you adopt new cultures, the locals you interact with will notice. As they see you adopting their culture, they become closer to you, which encourages you to further adopt the local culture. This is when a study abroad experience truly becomes meaningful, rewarding and exciting.

The friendships you cultivate abroad grow stronger as you share dreams, hopes and plans with each other. Whatever you gain from having your closest friends in your home country, you will also gain in a different country. It is like you have started a second life abroad.

As you prepare for an awesome study abroad experience, I challenge you to not only immerse yourself in the culture, but to also take the opportunity to adopt the new culture as your own. Seek out those places where you are the only foreigner among your friends.

When your friends across the ocean ask the next time you will come back home, you will realize this culture that seemed so foreign at first became not all that foreign after all.

Timothy is a junior University Scholars major from Houston.