Recently I had the pleasure of taking a trip to a foreign land that I had never been to, (and I have been to quite a few!), so this was a real novelty. The country I visited was Kazakhstan!
I am not going to talk about Kazakhstan today in this post, but what I want to do is to reflect on what it really is like for an international traveller entering a foreign land where their required language is zero, in my case of course it was Russian, my Russian was zero.
The interesting things to note are:
- Your language may not be there – anywhere
For some reason you expect your language to be at least somewhere on the roads or around the city, and of course it isn’t.
- Your language speakers in that country may not know your language in the way that you do
The people who can speak you language are there, but if they are local and have learned your language on a course, chances are they don’t get your accent or they don’t quite understand the question, e.g. my question was ‘What do you do for a job’? and the reply was ‘about 12 hours away from Almaty by train’.
- Even if you think you understand and ready to see the culture you expect, it will still hit you
There will be things you have seen or heard about that country and its people (and I’m not talking about the tourist videos on Youtube). It may be a simple idea of what the people are like. This memory will be lost before you come and will hit you smack bang in the face when you arrive. E.g. For me in the past I had heard that Russians were very serious and abrupt. I always assumed when I arrived they would be very friendly and helpful. Actually they were serious and abrupt. I am not saying that they are not friendly, actually they are very friendly and lovely people when you get to know them, but for someone who is from the outside, the ‘seriousness and abruptness’ is just part of their culture, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you.
- You will be ‘just another person’ to them
When you arrive at the airport you will be treated as…..’just another traveller through immigration’. Of course, that is their job, the immigration officer is not in the tourism business, he just needs to check that you are legal.
- You will expect that finding food you like will be difficult
Somehow you believe there will be a big adjustment to the food you can eat. Actually virtually anywhere in the world now will have some kind of ‘sandwich’ that you will find quite delicious. Some places even have one or even a full range of restaurants from your country….lucky you!
- It helps to pick up a few simple phrases to use like ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’.
Write them on your hand in your language when you are on the plane so that when you get there it will be easy to remember. Don’t be too shy to use it, it helps break the ice for the locals, and they will enjoy it too.
- Every country will have its own policies and procedures
There will be a ‘way’ that things are done in that country that will not always be the same as your country. You need to understand that the way your country does it does not mean that it is the only way. This new country will have a reason for doing things the way they do, so patience is the best policy.
- When you arrive the roads and directions seem impossible to understand.
Don’t worry, it’s just another city like you have in your city, there will always be a way to get to where you want to go, and once you know it, it’s just a matter of doing it a few times, and understanding the route…easy.
So there you have it…hope you will have some fears and doubts alleviated. But adjusting to a new place is not easy for anyone, particularly when you may have had to travel 12 hours on a plane, you are jetlagged and don’t know anyone.
The best advice I have ever got in my life was from my brother when I was travelling through Indonesia back in 1979…He said, if something happens, don’t worry just ask for help and ALWAYS someone will come to help you….people around the world are actually on the whole nice!