There are so many lists of things to do when abroad, but no one ever tells you what not to do. The following tips will be helpful (some learned the hard way) for anyone living abroad and anyone experiencing Culture Shock! I’ve recently returned from living abroad in the Dominican Republic where I was teaching English. It was an adventure the entire time, and I had my fair share of mishaps and victories adjusting to a new culture. When I was feeling homesick for New York City, I found an article on Wikipedia about Culture Shock. According to the article, there are four stages: the honeymoon, where everything is great; negotiation, where things are challenging; adjustment, where things make sense; and mastery, where you feel at home. After my one year, I was still in the adjustment stage, and there are always things to learn.
1. Don’t ignore people
I am from New York, and the culture there is to keep to yourself and keep your eyes focused ahead. In the Dominican Republic, everyone was very friendly and polite. I learned to greet others in public with a “saludos” or “buen dia”, to avoid appearing rude. The best way to fit in a new environment is to do as the locals do, so my advice is watch and learn, and make that a habit.
2. Don’t stick to a schedule
Dominicans are very relaxed with time and move at a different pace than in the states. I always expect things to move at a New York Minute and it’s just not possible, nor is it a good idea! I have found that there really is no rush, and it’s ok if you don’t get everything on your to-do list accomplished each day. Many countries have a similarly relaxed attitude towards time, so start moving at the same pace as your host country! Regardless, adopt a same flexible attitude and be respectful of others. Be open to last-minute plans: you’ll never know when someone will invite you to a concert or on a day trip to a new place. Conversely, don’t be upset when people cancel social plans last minute! Other things may have come up with them and this may work in your favor where you can cancel plans last minute.
Of course, in a professional setting such as business meetings or interviews, be punctual. Regardless of the culture, I feel it is most respectful to arrive to a meeting one time. But don’t worry too much if you have to wait for the person you are meeting.
3. Don’t only go to tourist locations or resorts
There are so many wonderful other places in the Dominican Republic; many of them are not on a resort nor in the capital city. Cities off the beaten path have their own charm and beautiful scenery. Don’t be afraid to set foot outside the resorts and get a taste of real culture. Try local restaurants and live music and get a real taste.
4. Don’t disregard your safety
As an American, I stood out in Santo Domingo. I knew that I could potentially be a target for theft, as my friends and students often warned me. I put my New York City vigilant attitude on steroids, albeit most likely unnecessary. I took precautions: I didn’t ever wear flashy jewelry or carry an expensive-looking bag. If I was in a public car or a public place, I didn’t take out my phone, wallet, or anything valuable. I kept small bills in my pockets so that I wouldn’t have to take out my wallet when in public. After dark, I was extremely cautious about taking public transportation, and after 8pm I opted for a taxi. A lot of this is common sense but it can’t hurt to be extra wary in a new environment.
5. Don’t refuse to try new foods
Sweet beans? Milk candy? Sure! Don’t be afraid to try new food! You may find a new favorite. A traditional Easter food in the Dominican Republic is Habichuelas con Dulce. Beans with sweet? I am used to beans with a savory flavor, so I was hesitant to try this dish. But the Habichuela con Dulce was actually pretty good! It is made with red beans, coconut milk, lots of sugar, and cinnamon, and is eaten as a dessert. Be open to new cuisine and maybe you’ll find your next favorite food!