Encounter International Experiences at Home

There is an overwhelming majority of us that include “travel” or “see the world” as bullets on our bucket lists. And while, by all means, we advocate the spontaneous round-the-world venture and nomadic lifestyle, we also understand that most of us don’t quite realistically have the funds or stamina to support a non-stop trek around the globe.  The good news is, thanks to the modern era of globalization, you don’t always have to travel to encounter international experiences.

Here are some easy, local ways to satisfy your international appetite while saving up for your next journey abroad:

1.  Participate in a local, language exchange program

Regardless of where you live, you can always find a language-exchange community to join in your area. The best place to check is with your university department of International Studies or Study Abroad department, most offer these programs to help their foreign exchange students integrate in the new culture and language.

Participants are matched with a conversation partner in the language that they would like to practice.  From there, partners are free to decide the location(s) for their weekly or monthly meetings, whether that’s over a beer at a bar, going for cappuccinos at one of your favorite coffee joints, lounging in lawn chairs at the beach, or chatting on a bench at the park downtown, etc.

The purpose of the program is to enhance your foreign language skills and facilitate cultural exchange. You also get to meet and make a new friend along the way!

2.  Work, Intern, or Volunteer for an International Organization

 The average European works 40 hours a week; that’s 40 hours a week spent with co-workers… quite a substantial amount of time to get to know someone. So when deciding which jobs or internships to apply for, why not help narrow the choice by searching for those that make a point to hire international staff? International corporations, businesses in the tourist industry, and networks such as IESTA and ERASMUS are all possibilities to meet international co-workers and clients

For example, from my own experience working here at Gomio.com I have had the opportunity to meet and talk with other employees from Spain, China, Germany, Canada, and more.  It’s an easy and interesting way to experience culture exchange, as well as an advantage for your company to draw from the unique combination of perspectives and cultural backgrounds for ideas and innovation.

In your free time, you could also consider giving back to the international community by volunteering for an international, non-profit organization and gain more knowledge about international issues while working toward a solution!

3. Join CouchSurfing

 If you haven’t heard of the site Couchsurfing.org yet, you should familiarize yourself.  It’s a unique concept in which travelers, or “surfers,” can search for a “host” in their city of travel and request to stay the night on their couch for free.  However, users should not mistake the experience for its most shallow level as mere free accommodation, it’s mostly used and valued for its social aspect with the mission of creating a global community and breaking barriers between strangers in order to make meaningful connections.

If you don’t feel comfortable or don’t have the time commitment for donating your couch to a stranger, you can also choose the option of meeting up with travelers for a drink, a city tour, or whatever else you can come up with.  As a local, you can pay it forward to other backpackers by showing them the underside of your city, the best place for a plate of pasta or a beer, the best park, or your own “secret spot” where you retreat to catch some awesome city views and unwind.  In exchange, you still get to scratch your travel itch by crossing paths with interesting, like-minded wanderers and connecting with travelers from different cultures and countries.

4. Twitter, Facebook and Social Networks

Matt and Ryosuke: a German-Japanese friendship forged in Spain via Twitter.

While Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks are typically used to stay in contact with old family and friends, they can also be used as a tool to reach out to new people and travelers, and offer you an international experience like an instance that happened to Matt.

Today, Matt lives in Barcelona, Spain, but he was born in Germany. It all started when his German friend back home contacted him via Twitter. The German friend told Matt that he was messaging his Tokyo friend Ryosuke, who he’d met from a trip through China. Ryosuke and his wife were going to be traveling in Barcelona and Spain, so he asked Matt if he would be willing to share with him his local knowledge and hostel recommendations. One thing led to another, and Matt ended up inviting Ryosuke and his wife to his terrace for breakfast, showing them around the city, and watching a game together – Messi scored four times!

Travelers with breakfast - Ryosuke and his wife having breakfast on Matt's terrace after getting in contact via Twitter.

Not only did they have a memorable evening and an interesting opportunity for Ryosuke and his wife to experience the life of a local, as well as the opportunity for Matt to experience Japanese culture, but they even brought him a present of miniature legos, a big fad in Tokyo!

Inviting international experiences in our local city softens the edge off of wanderlust, and adds flavor to your day by mixing up your routine with something new.  So if you start to feel the nomad nostalgia, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to search for international experiences abroad (though that would be ideal!) Globalization infiltrates almost every aspect of our daily lives, take advantage of it, and search for the international experiences in your own hometown!

And by the way – working in a hostel is also a highly international experience.

How have you stumbled upon international experiences at home? Tell us here!

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