Moving to a new country for your studies is an exciting endeavor. However, for many international students, especially the newcomers, embarrassing cultural slip-ups and fumbles are sometimes unavoidable. 

A cultural faux pas refers to doing or saying something that another culture deems improper or insensitive. Although these are often unintentional mistakes, a cultural faux pas can sometimes give the locals the wrong impression about you. In some cases, they might take offense from it and damage a relationship. An example of a cultural faux pas is wearing revealing clothes or showing public displays of affection in the UAE

International students, whether they like it or not, represent their culture and nation when they visit another country. Thus, it is important that they present themselves well by not committing a cultural faux pas, or else the locals may have a misconception about their guest’s people and culture. 

Here are some tips that can help international students avoid accidentally offending people in their host countries. 

Do Your Research and Be Observant

Before going to any type of gathering or meeting, do your research on how people should act, or communicate with other people in a group. 

When in a new situation, make it a habit to do these things: step back, assess the situation, and observe. Check how other people greet each other; when dining at a new place, observe any dining etiquette you must take note of and how people communicate with each other. For example, in some countries such as South Korea, the youngest person at the table pours his elders a drink as a sign of respect. 

Moreover, being observant will help you recognize people’s expressions, whether they feel embarrassed, disappointed, or angry.   

Make Friends with the Locals

Many international students, when they go to another country, usually only make friends with other international students, or students from their own country. If you do this, you are giving yourself a huge disservice because it will take you longer to understand local practices and customs.

Local friends can easily teach you what you should or should not do in different situations. Also, when you are always with them, it is easier to learn by just watching, listening, and even copying what they do. 

Ask a Lot of Questions 

Ask your friends, professors, the locals, and other students who visited your host country any questions you might have about the place and people. Locals would appreciate it if you ask rather than make assumptions, which can sometimes lead you to do something wrong. You can also ask questions from students or other people who already have the first-hand experience of living in another country to give you tips on what you should and should not do during your stay in your host country. 

If You Accidentally Did Something Wrong…

Take a moment to assess the situation, acknowledge it, respond in the best way possible such as apologizing, and learn to correct your behavior. Don’t dwell too much on something that already happened, but apologize after realizing you did something wrong and promise to correct your behavior. This will show other people your sincerity and that you do know how to respect another culture. 

Learning about another culture and avoiding a cultural faux pas is part of the experience of studying abroad. To learn more tips about studying abroad, check out MSM Unify’s article on this topic. 

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