Saturday, 8 July 2017

Tips on getting to know the culture and how to make friends in a foreign land

How to make friends in a foreign land? Is there a technique for that? I guess we all know how to make friends since we were kids. It is more of a habit than an effort one puts into but it’s not the same when you are in a different country. There you have put efforts consciously than before. Moreover, language barrier becomes an essential factor however most of the youngsters in Denmark speak in English. When it comes to other countries in Europe, you still have a scope of learning the language through free language course. Also, there are many programs taught in European countries in English, so the students are bound to speak in English.   
If you are communicative and mingle easily then it becomes easier for you. What if you are shy and reserved? Good news! No one knows you in that country and you have all the liberty to act the way you like. If people like you that’s well and good or you have nothing to lose. You must have seen and read quotes everywhere on the internet about ‘keeping your circle small and beer cold’, you can practically imply that in Europe (they have a lot of good beers). There is no need of being someone you aren’t, as the beauty of this journey will be to explore and establish strong as well as reliable bonds with like-minded people.
Let me tell you a secret, almost everyone who comes to study is from a different country and new to the university or college. So they are as excited and scared like you are. Don’t let the latter dominate the former.
It is a good experience in Denmark, where our college had given us money to party. Yes you read it correct; we had received money so that we could arrange a party with our classmates to get to know each other.  We had Europeans, Americans, South Africans and Asians in our class. I was sceptical at first with the word ‘party’ but I didn’t let my assumption overpower the exploratory mode.
From then on, there was no looking back; I got to know a lot of people from our class. I was keen on travelling when it came to Europe. Denmark has an interesting holiday week called the ‘potato week’. In this week, the schools and colleges give holiday to their students as they would help their parents in harvesting potatoes in the farm. This was a perfect opportunity for my first trip, where I asked my classmates to join me. We planned to visit Møns Klint, and it was an amazing experience. We went by our classmate’s car and tipped in our share for the fuel. Later, we went to Sweden which another great experience also for the fact that you tend to spend more time to get to know your classmates and the place you are visiting. When I posted the pictures of our trip, more people from our class were interested in coming with us.  This leads to the quote in implication “A journey is best measured in friends, rather in miles” by Tim Cahill.

Picture courtesy: Ganesh Giri , A road trip to Italy
Every time this isn’t possible that you can go on a trip however there are a lot of communities on Facebook which gives you an insight about social gatherings. The best way is to talk to people who have been living there such as counsellors, professors and former students. The most important word in all the vocabulary words you would have ever used is ‘Networking’. It is very important to go and talk to people who have been around for a while. I had connected with such a person and he got me introduced to his network of people. There I met a lady (Susanne Frederiksen) who was a local and had interest in travelling as well as food. The tip here would be that once you get introduced to people, common interest is the way to take it ahead from thereon.
Susanne and I used to meet over a coffee or a walk where we used to exchange ideas. She was keen on knowing Indian culture and it was Danish culture for me. There we came up with an idea of hosting dinner events where Internationals could meet Danes. It was really amazing how she was kind enough to host dinner at her house where all of us brought in some food to get to know each other over a dinner. I involved more of my friends so that they get to know Danes and vice versa. We created events on Facebook so that more people were aware of the same.  It was fun knowing Danish culture and for them to know different cultures who come to the country to pursue education.

Dinner event for Internationals meet Danes, Roskilde
There always highs and lows in our phase of studying abroad but there isn’t any fun without those. Especially, when it comes to winters in Europe. Denmark has a really dark winter and terrible unpredictability when it comes to weather. There was a phase around November and December where you would feel physically weak and depressed due to dark winters. It gets worst for me as Indian since we are used to sun at all time. At first, we tend to have a honeymoon period where everything seems new, exciting and we are on to exploratory mode. However, once that gets over we are hit by ‘cultural shock’ or ‘homesickness’. What happens when you are hit by cultural shock? That is right, you aren’t aware of the term, neither was I. Cultural shock is described as ones feeling when they leave their familiar culture to live into a new cultural or social environment. Even the most open minded people and cultural sensitive ones are prone to this. Moreover, a lot of people tend to face issue when it comes to food as many of us are used to eating homemade food for years. Hence, it is advisable to refer to what to pack list in the previous post so it becomes easier to sustain while you get used to the environment.
Now this was the reality check to your ‘All-nice imaginary world’, it is better to be aware. To avoid this one should definitely follow the rest above mentioned. My escape to such terrible winter was travelling to another country in Europe which had slightly better weather. When it comes to travelling in Europe, the best deals one can get is on Ryanair and EasyJet to fly with while hostels become smarter option to stay in. Moreover one shouldn’t forget the main purpose of their step out of their homeland- Studies!
It is always good to get involved in college communities such as Art, Science, Sports or Social cause. I used to spend my time in working for college bar where we arranged student parties and gathering for different festivities. I spent most of my winters in studying, exercising and watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S. series when flights were expensive, friends went back home for holidays and locals were busy in family gatherings. It does really help to keep yourself occupied; however do communicate with your family more often because that is a boon.
Staying away from your people and country will be difficult at first but it will make you independent on a foreign land which will eventually feel yours.
This phase that is about to come in your life or is going on will be one of the best, which will be remembered and cherished forever. So go on and live your dreams!

My article is also featured on EHEF Asia blog. 

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