For an enriching experience

For an enriching experience

An educational trip to a foreign country is always something to look forward to for students. Apart from higher studies, students also go abroad for internships, research projects and conferences among others. This is an opportunity to work and interact with international experts on globally relevant problems. Additionally, you also get to learn more about the country and its culture. Apart from preparing for the study-related aspects, it is also important to prepare for other crucial details of the trip such as the travel and stay. So, here are a few pointers which you may find useful to make your trip an enjoyable and enriching one.

Application

This stage is crucial as this is where the story of an educational travel really begins. To ensure a strong application, here's what you need to do:

Don't spam: Let there be profuse and genuine evidences in the letter of application that you have carefully chosen the places you write to, rather than spending a mass mail. Remember, the professors out there are busy. It would be nice of you if you don't expect them to waste their time in reading letters which have been putting together text copied off the Internet.

Personalise: Take genuine interest in the work of the organisation or university to which you are applying. Try to align your project to their work. A carefully drafted statement of purpose (SOP) will leave a lasting impression on the selector's mind. Write your applications with the honest conviction that you are going there to offer a value that they can't say no to.

Preparation and travel

Once your application has been approved, it's time to start making concrete preparations. One of the things which can mar a travel are contingencies like flight delays and lost luggage. What can we do to avoid them? Here are a few pointers:

Plan early: Preparing for a foreign travel is very complex. Arranging funds, tickets and visa are the most important aspects of this preparation. Air tickets are much cheaper if purchased early. Finding out about the visa application process for the country of visit will help save the last
moment trepidation. It's always good to get in touch with someone who has either travelled or has stayed in the country you would be visiting to know about details such as the best way to travel and where to stay. Knowing someone who already knows the place and its ways may prove to be an invaluable resource.

Don't overplan: Early bookings save money, but come with committing to a plan. Doing so rules out certain interesting possibilities. Also, too much detailing makes the plan brittle. Such plans may crumble if one of its components fails.

Have backup plans: Identifying components of a plan which can fail, and providing backup options, is also a part of good planning.

Don't be hasty: In crowded areas such as airports, railway stations and bus stands, it's best to avoid haste. So, it is best go slow and take your time to do each activity one at a time.

While being there

Meeting with people outside one's own country is sometimes a source of anxiety. How should we behave with the local residents, particularly when we aren't in the safety of our own country? Here are a few ways that can help:

Be tolerantly proud: We know of many problems in our country. But there's a thin line between being critical, and being downright disparaging. Being reasonably knowledgeable about one's own country and culture earns you respect. Equally important is to exhibit genuine respect and tolerance for other cultures. There should be a sense of equality and mutual respect in conversations between people from different geographies and
cultures.

Things that always work: There are certain attitudes which always work regardless of culture and geography.
A happy and smiling demeanour is more effective and impressive than immaculate dressing and stylish mannerisms. Politeness, helpfulness and honesty are culture neutral attitudes which will always earn you respect and acceptance. Good work ethics like punctuality are always good in any professional setting.

Trying to fit in: Trying to blindly imitate someone's dressing style and mannerism is not good and it will fail to impress anyone. A decent, clean dress is good enough for almost any place. If the climate demands a particular way of dressing, you should be flexible to change your dressing style. Similarly, faking accent is a useless ploy. Instead, focus on being a good and articulate communicator.

What to avoid

Certain things which are acceptable in one's own culture may be a taboo elsewhere. Here are some things that you may want to avoid while being in a foreign country:

Avoid giving extreme opinions on religion, sex and politics until an environment of trust has been developed.

Never share photos of people, particularly when it is taken in a private setting, on social networks without express permission.

Be conservative in your exhibition of affection to people. A handshake to express any form of warmth is quite safe in most cases.

Stay out of illegal behaviour like driving without license.

Sightseeing

In my opinion, the most fascinating aspect of any place are its people. Ask yourself the question: what's unique about the place? Prior reading and conversing with locals will give you an idea of the country you are in and will help you decide what you would really like to learn and experience in that country. Doing so can help you maximise your experience in the country. However, as it is an educational trip, it is also important to be diligent in your work and focus on contributing and not on impressing people.

A visit to a new place should be a source of personal enrichment rather than a tick on a map. This happens by taking a genuine interest in the place and its people, rather than posing for photographs in famous places. When in doubt, follow your instincts or the advice of a local friend.

With these tips in mind, you would be able to make the most out of your trip.

(The author is assistant professor, IIIT, Bengaluru)

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