Explore

Be a scientist in the field

Going abroad is a great opportunity for you to get international work experience. No doubt, there is a lot to gain professionally. But remind yourself that you also have a great personal and cultural experience ahead of you and an opportunity to gain valuable knowledge of another way of living.

If you really get to know another culture, you will gain a fuller understanding of the world around you. See yourself as a scientist in the field and keep your eyes open, collect, compare, investigate, go into detail and zoom out for the big picture.

While working abroad, you may not have much time or energy for new experiences. Still, take some time to explore. If you cannot find time for big trips, simply take a different way home from work, try a new restaurant for dinner and talk to as many of the people you meet on your way as you can.

Many people tend to believe they know all about their new home after a short time in the country, probably because they have a need to sort all new impressions and experiences into mental boxes to keep an overview. But keep challenging what you learn, keep collecting, comparing and investigating – and discuss your experiences and thoughts with people around you for perspective.

Avoid stereotypes

A scientist both explores, investigates AND publishes his or her work to contribute to a fuller understanding within his or her field of research. As a cultural explorer and scientist in the field, you should also share your findings with people around you, both your loved ones and your local community. And you should invite new friends and co-workers in your host culture to learn more about your own culture. Now typically, when you hear of other cultures, the stories are focused on the fascinating, the out of the ordinary, the authentic, mysterious or exotic.

We tend to romanticize other cultures and pay attention to anything that is different from what we know. This often results in stereotypical images of other cultures and people. To avoid stereotypes, try to nuance what you communicate and tell your stories from a different angle. And remember to “show it, don’t tell it”, that is, be concrete when you make a statement by providing examples. Remember the cultural iceberg? Then you know to look below the surface for a much richer understanding of any culture.

How to be a scientist in the field

  • Always keep your eyes open.
  • Consider everything to be alive and living.
  • Everything is interesting if you take a closer look.
  • Change your course often.
  • Observe for long durations – and short ones.
  • Notice the stories going on around you.
  • Notice patterns and make connections.
  • Document your findings in a variety of ways: Video, photos, drawings, personal journal, etc.
  • Use all your senses.
  • Collect anything, such as magazines, commercials, ticket stubs, postcards, a stone on the beach, a leaf from a tree, little things that are without value but show others everyday things of the culture.

Share your experience

Your new cultural experience will be a great personal gain for you. But share your experiences and insights with your friends and family too. If you travel abroad and leave loved ones behind, it can often be a lonely feeling to go back home and not be able to talk about your experiences. In fact, you might find that others will not see the changes you have gone through.

They might expect you to return as the person you were, as had you just been away on a short holiday, and might quickly lose interest in hearing about your experiences. So make your experiences as real and easy to relate to as you can. This way you make your experience interesting for your loved ones and keep your relations and understanding of each other intact. 

  How to share your cultural experience with your loved ones

  • Create a blog. Blogs are online journals and a great tool to share your everyday experience in words and photos while you are away.
  • Make short video clips of your house, workplace and the people you spend time with – and of some of the big events you attend or things you experience. Video is as close to the real thing as you get and gives a good impression of your everyday life in picture, sound and movement.
  • After returning to home, invite everyone over for a slideshow of your best photos and serve some of the food you learned to make while away. Focus on showing photos of things from your daily life, both the stimulating and the challenging.

Sharing your experiences with your loved ones is essential. But why stop there? You have gained great insights and knowledge of a country and culture that is different from your own. Your local community could learn from you and get more perspective if you share your experience with them.

  How to share your cultural experience with your local community

  • Write an article for a local paper.
  • Make a photo exhibition at a local library.
  • Give a presentation to people interested in a certain aspect of your experience, such as students of political science or anthropology or a local NGO involved in development work in your host country.
  • Inspire people to be cultural scientists themselves and make their own first hand observations.

Be a scientist in your own back yard

When you return to your home country after a long stay abroad, you might experience an adaptation process similar to what you experienced when you first moved out. You might find your surroundings changed - or find it strange that they haven’t changed. Once again you have an extraordinary opportunity to be a scientist in the field and do what you do best: Keep your eyes open, collect, compare, investigate, go into detail and zoom out for the big picture. 

Reflection

  • What will you do to be a scientist in the field?
  • How will you present your home culture in your new country?
  • How will you share your experience with your loved ones at home?
  • How will you share your experience with your local community?

References for this text

Keri Smith: “How to be an explorer of the world. Portable life museum”, 2008