The week’s events thoroughly confused me at first. When certain activities began during class, I wondered what the point was to the entire affair. To me, the group activity seemed to emulate real-life language barriers, in which people simply could not understand each other and had to struggle to get along in a foreign and confusing situation. As the activity progressed, I realized that the goal was much broader. The relations occurring between the “diplomats” and “citizens” represented the more general concept of misinterpreted communications, heightened by cultural differences and language barriers. An already awkward discourse becomes more uncomfortable when either participant misunderstands body language or tone of voice and subsequently becomes offended and unresponsive.
As soon as I understood the end goal – to fully understand the type of situations we might encounter no matter where we choose to travel abroad –, the activity took on a greater gravity. My giggles at the absurdity of the communication occurring between outsider and native subsided as I grasped that such reactions would not be acceptable in many foreign cultures, especially those where respect of others is held in such high regard. My best strategy was to keep a straight face and attempt to be helpful in those conversations that I was allowed to join. Thinking back to my time spent abroad, I most likely never dealt with similar instances in the perfect way. I believe most of us can become easily flustered when we are in a foreign country where the language, culture, and customs are even slightly unfamiliar to us; the key is to learn how to catch on to social cues as quickly as possible. Much of these awkward circumstances, however, could also be totally avoided by a quick Google search of a country’s forms of courtesy – you can never do too much research before a trip abroad! The main lesson I learned from this exercise and that I will carry with me is that these episodes can never be planned out nor a person’s reactions fully predicted. The best strategy is simply to improvise and learn as you go, focusing on the present situation and not all of the expectations you carried into the conversation. Cultural differences exist, but you should not let your assumptions hinder you from having a truly immersive experience driven by interactions with locals.