Communicating in a Foreign Country

A mural in Valencia, Spain. “No Importa El Color, Todos Somos Migrantes.”
“Color Doesn’t Matter, We Are All Migrants.”

Effective communication can be hard. It’s even harder in a foreign country. I never realized how much I relied on written words until street signs, menus, and directories meant nothing. My first trip abroad taught me when you’re lost, broke, exhausted, and out of battery power, nothing will get you further than acts of kindness.  

People appreciate it when you make an attempt to use their language. If Americans get a bad rap for being stupid or rude, it’s because of expecting someone to conform to your language when you’re in their country. Greet people in their language. Say hello. Show off your skills, even if they’re terrible. Sure, they might laugh at you, but that will get them smiling. I found people to be much more receptive after I showed them I was appreciating their culture.

A few words go a long way. All you really need to know is hello, yes, no, please, and thank you. The more you practice saying them with their native accent, the better. For more complicated situations, Google Translate will be your best friend.

Most importantly, have an understanding of context and body language. People are still people. We have the ability to speak a universal language. At a base level, we all think and feel the same. It’s only with advanced communication that we can express judgement and discrimination.

Being in the unknown is a growing experience everyone should experience at least once. It’s a great way to expand cultural perceptions.  My advice is to express your gratitude. Smile at people, say hello and thank you. Kindness starts with you. I couldn’t imagine moving to a foreign country, much less having to migrate to a new country, if there wasn’t kindness. It’s intense, not knowing where you are or what’s going on. It was kindness that helped me through as a traveler. At times it was the only language I understood.

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