Learn as much as possible about the host country in order to have realistic expectations.
How much can you learn about a host country before you arrive? Yes, thank goodness for the internet and its endless (and sometimes tiresome) list of websites that try and shed light on the many facets of the host country’s culture and language.
A type of website that might be the most informative: personal blogs of expats that live in the host country. Certainly, they are the best type of website to gather information about the host country. The blogger typically is very explicit and candid about their day-to-day experiences living there. Personal blogs of international teachers are even better. I love reading from their entries even before they arrive in their new country to when they have been there three years later. Some of the international teacher blogs that we have highlighted on International School Community so far:
• Education Rickshaw (China)
• Expat Heather (South Korea)
• Josefino Rivera (Bulgaria)
But I must say that I knew close to nothing about the country I am currently in, and the people from where I am from knew even less. Sometimes you just got to go there yourself to see about the culture and language of the host country’s people. When I go home now, I am inundated with questions about what life is like there…and some of the questions are really unbelievable (but I was once in their shoes I’m sure).
I think it is hard to get away from the stereotypes that we have about each culture group in the world. The issue is, as we all know, that the stereotype might actually be true for the majority of the people in the host country. However, it is NOT true for EVERYONE in the country. You cannot group everyone in one culture group together. I just read recently that due to the Danish cultural norms Danes don’t try and make good friends with people that they work with. I’m sure that there are a few Danes that hang out with their co-workers outside of work and call them their best friends.
Realistic expectations? This will take some good research I think. Every time I go to a new location, one of the things I do is buy the latest Lonely Planet for that country/city. For sure after reading a bit of that travel book I can have my expectations be a tiny be more realistic, if not even make them a bit more exciting. I don’t know about you though, but I am quite sensitive to culture shock. So, even if I have realistic expectations and am ready to expect the unexpected, I am still subjected to embarrassing mood swings about the things that in theory I had already expected. One of the joys of living abroad I suppose. By the way, I subscribe to the idea of cherishing all emotions: the good and the not-so-good.
Last thing that I know about how to find out the most I can about my future host country: talk to people that currently work at the school. Not the administrator, the human resources department, etc…the real people that work there who will really tell you how it is. I’ve always received a few contact email addresses of some teachers that I can contact during the summer. I have even had a Skype call with one of them which really helped I think get my expectations to be a little more realistic. It is key to talk to people and gather as much information as possible.
This article was submitted by a guest author and ISC member.
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