Where to Go: Comfort Level
Making the decision to take a cultural career break may have been a difficult one – but already you have pushed yourself out of your comfort zone. Don’t let that stop when you hit the road. This is your opportunity to explore worlds and cultures you never imagined and learn more about yourself in the process.
Of course before hitting the road, you do want to have the peace of mind that where you are going is safe – not just for your own comfort but that of your friends and family staying behind. The U.S. State Department’s website offers tips for safely traveling internationally (including registering with the local US Embassies) as well as posting warnings and alerts for countries all around the world. And check out the CIA World Factbook for more detailed information on every country.
[singlepic=1224,225,,,right]And staying on top of local news and events is also a great way to understand issues that may affect you during your time. Signing up for Google Alerts is one way to get the latest news, and you can also bookmark the websites of international papers. But keep in mind that “news” tends to be geared towards negative stories. Don’t let that worry you too much. When I was preparing volunteers to travel to the southern part of Thailand, many were concerned about news stories of violence at the border of Malaysia. Having contact with the local staff in Thailand, I was able to reassure them that the violence was hundreds of miles away from our program site. You may not have someone local to reassure you on issues, but message boards and forums are another great place to seek advice on safety.
[singlepic=1225,175,,,left]Of course it can’t go without saying that there is an assumption that Americans are poorly viewed overseas and that it is not safe to travel abroad as an American. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Most people I have encountered overseas can differentiate between the individual and one’s government, especially when it comes to Americans. In fact, I’ve found that the rest of the world is greatly educated on US politics and economics because it affects them as much as us. I have had waiters in Laos and musicians in Peru want to discuss and debate the latest US policies because they so rarely encounter Americans.
And most of the time, people don’t even care where you are from. As long as you respect their cultures, refrain from illegal activities, and keep an open mind, you will be fine.
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