“So, what are people’s reactions to your living-abroad stories?” my friend asked, waiting for hilarity to ensue. His intention was well-founded: I had spent the past few years living in a hotel in rural Italy, teaching English in a Malaysian fishing village, and interviewing strangers throughout London. I had more than a few adventure tales up my sleeve. Surely, the interest of everyone around me should be piqued
Yet, it wasn’t. It seems to be a common trend for those of us who have studied or lived abroad; we return changed people with a stream of fascinating, bizarre content, but those around us don’t seem to care. “How was Malaysia?” I am often asked, blithely. It never feels appropriate to begin unwinding my narrative of the one weekend when I drove a public boat to a tropical island and swam with an endangered turtle and no less than five sharks, and sang karaoke with a very kind Malay family into the wee hours of the morning. It seems untimely to go on about how the men on the island spun fire and the water was infused with bio-luminescence, and this tiny island was only a small fragment of my log of travel experiences, just a speck in an ocean of stories.
“It was a great year; I feel really lucky,” I reply with a smile. I don’t know how to say “I have interesting things I’d like to share with you,” without being pretentious and self-absorbed. And, the people on the receiving end, I suspect, don’t know how to ask.
So, here it is: 5 Ways to Ask about a Friend’s Experience Abroad. Because we should be hearing those stories that transformed our friends, shocked them, and turned their worlds upside down. And, who knows? Hearing their tales might shape your future travels in ways you don’t expect.
1. “What made you want to go there?” Whether this traveler has gone to a spot that you can’t even place on a map or to one of the world’s most-traveled cities, there is often a compelling reason behind the choice, and it will shed light both on the destination and the traveler.
2. “Is [this very common stereotype about this place] true?” Sometimes we’re totally off-base about what we assume about other countries. Other times, though, we’re right on the money, and those assumptions-come-true can often yield funny moments that are worth hearing.
3. “What was your favorite food there? What was the common favorite food?” Did you know Malaysians are crazy about fried chicken? That Peruvians love pasta and potatoes? Food can lead to a lot of insight about a place, and might even add a new destination to your bucket list.
4. “What was the hardest adjustment you had to make?” It might be that your friend had to travel without a hairdryer. But, more likely, it was having to redefine racism as we know it, or battle gender stereotypes, or learn to discuss religion/politics tactfully on the fly. There are real lessons to be learned from travel beyond breaking in those newest hiking boots, and we all have something to learn from them.
5. “What was one of the absolute best moments of your trip?” Even people who have been away for long stretches of time have moments that stand out to them. It’s hard to forget that time you looked King Tut’s tomb in the eye, or mastered a traditional dance, or made it to the top of a volcano. It isn’t hard for us to recall these instances; the problem is pinpointing just one in the enormous wealth we have post-travel.