An Online Primer for Budget Exploration
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III. CULTURAL INTEGRATION
There are a few cross-cultural exercises developed by such organizations as the Peace Corps and student exchange organizations to prepare people for overseas living. Generally these may not be needed for short-term European travel but you can find interesting books which discuss these and related issues at your library or online. Some are elaborate role-playing games, others are simple exercises. In-depth books looking at cross-cultural issues are available through the Intercultural Press (http://www.interculturalpress.com/; also noted in the resource section).
If you plan to try to get under the surface, these exercises help you to feel the emotions you may feel while traveling; uncertainty, frustration, vulnerability. The purpose is experience the emotional ringer a bit before you go, so you will be better prepared to cope once there. It helps to feel what you may feel, both to understand yourself in the first place and to know how to get through it.
Get a few friends together and try a couple of the simple ones.
First is a non-verbal communication exercise. If you have five people, take five slips of paper and number them sequentially. Everyone picks a slip without revealing their number. They are then blindfolded. The goal is for everyone to line up in order, one through five, WITHOUT speaking. One person should stand by and serve to help out in case things get hopelessly confused.
It might turn out to be fun, but the point is to develop creativity in nonverbal communication as well as demonstrate it is possible to get along without speaking. (This usually involves a lot of poking and prodding.) You may get feelings of frustration as well, and this is something you must learn to cope with while traveling. There are some variations on this, such as using noises but no words, or adding time limits to increase tension (masochists only).
Another simple exercise is called the "Trust Walk" and takes only two people. Do this in an area where there is room to walk around safely. One person is blindfolded and must be led by the arm by the sighted person without speaking. Take some turns and curves, perhaps a through a door and over some steps. Then switch.
The goal is to make the blindfolded person feel emotions they may experiene while overseas; feelings of dependency, uncertainty, confusion. How you deal with them now is probably similar to how you will react while abroad in various situations; when you are confused about something, dependent on someone else to get you through (like a taxi driver), or uncertain at someone's meaning of something. The person who leads will also feel a deepened sense of responsibility for the other's well-being, stress at an inability to communicate effectively; what a host may feel while you are visiting.
If you know someone who has been to Europe, invite them to help you with another very simple yet productive lesson we will call "Hopes and Fears."
Write all the things you are looking forward to about your trip, whatever they may be, however general or specific, silly or serious. Beside those, write all the things about which you are uncertain or fearful. With that done, the lesson already has been helpful by getting you to articulate some of the things that may have been random, unorganized feelings within you.
Next, get the experienced traveler to go through the list with you and give their opinion on what is realistic or not. You can also research some of the items yourself. If you are only going to Italy and want to see the Mona Lisa, you will be disappointed to learn she hangs out in Paris.
Some items will be unanswerable: such feelings as "I fear I will get lost often." There is only one way to answer this, but again a main point is to get you to record feelings which may have previously been undefined uncertainties.
Just like real life, your biggest disappointments will come if you have unrealistic expectations. The previous exercise may help bring them out, and it is critical to recognize and deal with them.
These exercises are meant to develop your self-awareness of general international travel issues and emotions. They should be thought-provoking as well as potentially fun; there are many others if you want to delve deeper into the subject before you go.
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