The cultural immersion can be an incredible way to gain knowledge of another culture through their language, food, beliefs and traditions. It offers something very different than the typical “tick-box” travel that most of us are used to experiencing.
Research has demonstrated that participants involved in Global Service Learning and study abroad programs experience transformative changes to both their sense of self and perceptions of others during these programs. Some of these effects continue even after completion.
Learn the Language
Travel is one of the best ways to explore other cultures, from Grand Tours taken by European youth in the 17th and 18th centuries, through to today’s “slow travel” movement – there are countless opportunities available to discover how simple daily lives differ across borders.
One of the key components of cultural immersion travel is learning the language of your host country. Many cultural immersion tours incorporate language learning components into their trips so participants have an opportunity to practice and improve their fluency in it. Immersion increases confidence when using new languages – you won’t worry so much about making mistakes that others might judge you!
Studies such as Mezirow’s Perspective Transformation Theory and Kiely’s Transformative Service Learning Model have demonstrated that people will undergo changes to their perspectives and identities during cultural immersion engagements . Yet many participants report experiencing regression during such experiences, suggesting some aspects of transformation remain elusive.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
Immersion programs give study abroad students a much deeper experience of foreign cultures, their languages, foods, beliefs, traditions and communities. This differs significantly from merely visiting all of the sights without really getting to know anyone or understand their daily lives.
Learning requires commitment and an openness to learning from all situations – not only those you find comfortable. Indeed, one participant interviewed stated “if you approach it with closed mind you won’t gain anything out of it”.
Connecting with people of different cultures isn’t easy, but the experience will enrich your life and prove invaluable for the future. Cultural immersion experiences allow participants to gain greater insights into various perspectives and experiences which will aid with collaborative projects down the line.
Observe the Art
No experience can provide as much insight into a place than seeing it through the eyes of its local inhabitants. From watching Mexican families cook together or witnessing Bolivian women weave traditional tapestries with passion, immersing yourself in local cultures can broaden your perspective and help expand your understanding.
This can also apply to visiting cities through the eyes of their residents, making study abroad programs an excellent way of getting to know a place as its inhabitants do, rather than from just touristic viewpoint.
Cultural immersion provides transformative social learning experiences for participants, and is a key aspect of global awareness and internationalism. According to research, participants may begin an ongoing journey of self-identity transformation after returning home.
Make Meaningful Connections
As part of cultural immersion, adopting traditions, cuisine and dress from another culture can be rewarding; however, there’s a fine line between appreciating and appropriating. Wearing Thai tattoos without an understanding of where they originated from would constitute cultural appropriation, potentially offending locals in the process.
Participants interviewed by GSL/SAP focused heavily on approaching their experience with an open mindset and willingness to learn from all situations, as well as understanding how their cultural background and perspectives could impede or affect it.
Traditional approaches to DEI tend to rely on classroom education and symbolic messages that don’t always lead to change. Organizations can leverage cultural immersion initiatives as a powerful way of driving transformational results that impact both employees and wider society – Upwardly Global is one such company which has successfully used such methods to assist its clients back into employment.