Fall semester, I was lucky enough to study abroad in Geneva, Switzerland. While I ate a lot of fondue and dabbled in my fair share of French language hiccups, being in the international hub of Europe also allowed me to learn a lot about foreign cultures. Often, I had to learn things the hard way. To help others avoid making the same mistakes I did, I am sharing my best tips and tricks that everyone should know when studying or working abroad.
- Timeliness is Key…Sometimes
Depending on the country, this could go both ways. While America is somewhere in the middle depending on the event, in Switzerland, people were on time like you would not believe. The trains, the classes, and events always started right on time and ended right on time. In other countries, though, schedules much more relaxed. “You get there when you get there” is a common theme in countries like Italy and Peru. Know the timeliness customs of the country you are visiting to avoid offending others by being late, or getting annoyed yourself by a tardy lunch date.
- The Way You Dress Speaks for You
Fashion in foreign countries varies, but for the most part, the people abroad are simply more formal than we are. In my 4 months abroad, I can confidently say that I never saw a pair of sweatpants in the grocery store, let alone in the classroom or workplace. People dress well, and in turn, act more professionally in their day to day life.
I like adhering to the following rule: it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed. Pack a few pairs of different colored dress pants that could work with any outfit. Planning on going out? Dresses, skirts or darker slacks will help you fit in much more than your favorite pair of jeans or casual shorts. I hardly ever saw short jean shorts, basketball shorts or thin strap tank tops, so save yourself some room in your suitcase and leave those at home!
- Language Barrier is a Barrier
Most of the world speaks English, and we are lucky in that way. Starting a career in international business doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be fluent in another language. However, I cannot stress enough the importance of making an effort. If you know you will be going to a foreign country, teach yourself the basics. It will take a little time, but it will be well worth it. People are nicer and much more willing to help you if they see you making an effort.
I used Doulingo to teach myself a little French before jetting off to Geneva and it made a world of a difference. Walking into a store and saying, “Parlez vous anglais?” instead of “Do you speak English?” guarantees people will be more accommodating and willing to help you figure things out.
When doing business or study abroad, make sure you take some time beforehand to familiarize yourself with the local culture and customs. It may take some time, but it will help you avoid an embarrassing mistake that could cost you a networking opportunity or a sale.