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mentor picture Amelia
 
Amelia
Senior Year Student
University of California, Los Angeles
As a Muslim-American, studying abroad was an interesting feat. While I wear the hijab (modest dress), I still look like an anomaly to many people abroad and in the US. I have a Pakistani heritage but was born and raised in Los... As a Muslim-American, studying abroad was an interesting feat. While I wear the hijab (modest dress), I still look like an anomaly to many people abroad and in the US. I have a Pakistani heritage but was born and raised in Los Angeles, where I currently attend UCLA as an International Development Studies major. Although I expected my family and community to be conservative when it came to leaving home and going abroad, I was pleasantly surprised. In the last year, I have travelled to Spain, France, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Morocco (with the help of the Gilman Scholarship) on a backpacking trip alone. Being an ethnic female Muslim-American wearing hijab while travelling abroad was definitely a challenge, but travelling alone inculcated an independent and confident attitude in me that no other experience could have fostered. Upon graduating, I intend to teach English abroad through the Peace Corps.

Responses

  1. Take a few minutes out of every day to go over some short language clips on YouTube.com to learn basic phrases such as "Hello" and "Thank you" in the language spoken most widely in your host country. It would also be important to memorize phrases such as "no meat" if you are vegetarian or "no peanuts" if you are allergic to peanuts, etc. Another good way to immerse yourself into a new culture is by watching a foreign film that is from your host country, so if you are going to China, ask around or google "classic Chinese cinema." If you don't have time for that, a good alternative is simply to keep up with world news on websites such as CNN.com and BBC.com so that you are not completely out of the loop when you arrive into your host country. It's also cool if you look up some of the current pop music because people will be really impressed if you know a popular song!
    3 answers – Before You Leave – Culture
  2. When I arrived in Turkey, I was culture shocked that a country whose population was 99% Muslim was very progressive. In the capital, Ankara, where I stayed at, there was an entire district for bars and clubs downtown. It was only shocking because I had a stereotype of Muslims as being conservative and religious. Although I believe that culture shock is not entirely avoidable, I do believe you can prepare for it by having an open mind and researching some aspects about the culture by reading articles, watching movies, youtube clips, or listening to the music.
    3 answers – While Abroad – Culture
  3. Adapting to a new culture requires patience and flexibility. Without embracing these two qualities everyday, adapting can become difficult. You should expect to assimilate into the society after a few weeks, but full integration can take months or even years to accomplish--so don't worry if you are not entirely connected with the people after a short while. What is important is to continue to respect the people and the culture, and eventually, you will adapt to the lifestyle and culture.
    4 answers – While Abroad – Culture
  4. The best way to interact with locals and immerse yourself into a foreign culture is to learn the language. I learned Turkish when I went to Turkey for four months. Although I am not fluent in any way, I tried my best to manage the colors, numbers, basic phrases, and conversation pieces (eg. I go to school in California, I am American, I love Turkey). The key to gaining the locals' trust in you is to learn the language, because that will eliminate the barrier of foreign identity to them. You will be surprised with how welcoming people become once you are able to relate to them in the same tongue!
    4 answers – While Abroad – Culture
  5. Home-sickness is inevitable, even if you are independent or nomadic. Whether you have a home or you are constantly travelling, there are aspects of each place that you will miss. To deal with this, it is important to first realize that your experience will realistically not last a lifetime (in most cases), so you will have to make the most of your time abroad. After having spent most of your life in one location, this is your chance to be somewhere else and do something different from everyone else, so don't focus on the negatives of being sad or homesick! If you will be returning home, then you should realize that your time is temporary and your usual comforts are only away for a matter of time. Homesickness can be furthered by keeping in touch too much or reviewing photos from back home too often--stay away from over-indulging in nostalgia, because you may be wasting moments to create new and exciting memories.
    3 answers – Health – While Abroad – Culture
  6. Each country has its own security and safety dangers, so if you think that you can apply the standards of being safe at home in the U.S. to the standards of safety in a country in Latin America or Eastern Europe, you are wrong. Some places may be more hazardous to your health (chemically, allergy wise, etc), while some places may be dangerous to walk around past sunset. Not all places can be generalized with the same safety precautions, so make sure you research in guidebooks about precautions you must take. For example, pickpocketing may be an issue in a big city, but in a small, village area, you may experience that you have to be on alert for much more.
    2 answers – Safety Issues – While Abroad
  7. If you experience distress, be sure to find an outlet to release it. You may want to try talking to an old friend, or talking to a new friend whom you have met while being abroad about your struggles (they tend to be able to relate better). You can also find fun outlets like exercising outdoors or picking up a local hobby (find out what the city you are in is "known for.") Make sure that you don't let more than a few days pass by without exerting efforts into relieving yourself, because the stress can accumulate and become deterring.
    2 answers – Health – While Abroad
  8. You may be surprised that discrimination is not taken as seriously abroad as it is in the U.S. Therefore, I recommend an open mind when travelling abroad--although nearly 75% of the world's population now lives in cities where people are more exposed to other races and other cultures/beliefs, there still exists a huge element of the "unknown." You, as the traveller, expect to see the kinds of people you see because you chose to travel to that place (i.e. if you chose to travel to Morocco, you'd expect to see Moroccans); however, you cannot apply the reverse to them (i.e. Moroccans don't expect to see people like you all of the time). You may be intriguing, interesting, different, odd, funny-looking, bizarre, beautiful, or any number of characteristics to them, so discrimination may not be always what it seems. Always be patient and respectful because you don't want to cause a scene or demand attention just because you feel unjustified. This is your chance to explain to them where you come from and who you are, so shine!
    2 answers – Racism – Gender – Safety Issues – While Abroad
  9. When I studied abroad in Turkey for four months, I was able to learn manageable Turkish. In other words, I took a class that helped me learn Turkish grammar in writing, but other than that, my best classroom was my travels themselves because I met tons of different people and had tons of conversations with them that forced me to speak Turkish. Since the majority of Turks don't speak English, I carried a small pocket dictionary around with me at all times. It becomes especially useful if you are looking for something specific and you need to learn the word for it; for example, if you are shopping for a belt, you would learn the word for "belt."
    2 answers – While Abroad
  10. Going on YouTube.com or other language-teaching websites for a few minutes per day before your departure is a great way to begin learning a new language. Don't be afraid to practice it aloud or use it when you arrive, despite your self-consciousness about mispronouncing words. It is very important to use whatever you learned because the locals would rather have you use the language and mispronounce than just not even bother to learn anything at all. When you learn the language, it shows initiative and you can use that to your advantage when you want to form relationships or start conversations with people abroad.
    2 answers – Before You Leave
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