Dear BI Career Consultant:
How can faculty and/or administrators best prepare themselves for an enriching experience studying or teaching abroad?
Studying and teaching abroad might just be one of the most interesting experiences that an educator could possibly have during his or her career. The time will be challenging, educational and inspirational. Anyone planning to spend time abroad should purchase at least a few travel guides for their destination. Most bookstores will stock a variety of guides that contain tourist, cultural and historical information for your particular destination. Try to find travel guides that include spotting maps, local transportation information and basic useful phrases in the local language.
There is a great deal of travel information on the Internet ranging from very general travel topics to very specialized travel interests. The U.S. Department of State Web site includes foreign country profiles, which are updated on a regular basis. This site also includes the latest travel warnings and U.S. embassy locations abroad. Many foreign countries have informative tourism Web sites. Foreign embassies in the United States will be able to provide details about obtaining visas and other entry requirements for their country.
Consult faculty and students who are either nationals of your destination country or who have traveled extensively to that location. People who have lived in a country often provide an “insider” perspective that you might not glean from tour books. Consider foreign language lessons to learn at least some survival language skills for your destination. Check out foreign language instruction audiotapes and computer software to acquire basic skills. It is amazing how much people will appreciate you more if you learn to use basics such as “thank you,” “please,” “good day” in the local language.
When I travel, I seek out interesting places and engage in small talk with as many local people as possible. During an assignment in Tel Aviv, Israel, I attended a church service in my own Christian denomination and discovered an entire community of African “guest workers” who are active members of that parish. There is a special weekly Mass incorporating the traditions of people from many countries in Africa, and I was even able to witness a wedding of a couple from Ghana. This was surely one of those wonderful yet unexpected events that make travel abroad so interesting.
As you prepare for departure, do keep an open mind about your travel experience. Tourist information might have a particular political or cultural bias that may not correspond to your point of view. I gather as much pre-departure information as possible, but try to set my own cultural and political assumptions aside when I travel to a new location. Many African Americans in the United States have insight into diverse cultural realities as a result of navigating between mainstream America and our own ethnic communities. Surely that experience has made it easier for me to cross cultures when traveling overseas. Remain open to learning about your new location after arrival and you may be surprised at how much you will learn about yourself.
Karen L. McMichael, Esq.
Director of International Programs,
Temple University, Beasely School of Law
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