HEAT Advises on Study Abroad

By Joyana Richer
News Reporter

When it comes to traveling abroad there are many things to keep in mind. With the summer rolling around the corner there are some tips and tricks to making those traveling plans better and culturally friendly.

Founder of the organization HEAT at Texas State University and TedxTalk speaker Ian Smith said there are many ways to become more aware of other cultures and how to overcome challenges while traveling abroad.

Among the most important things to keep in mind when traveling is learning how to be culturally immersed and respectful. The first thing to avoid is forced assimilation, Smith said.

“You don’t want to go to other cultures and proclaim your culture to be what they should strive to be,” Smith said. “You don’t want to go to some remote village for a weekend and tell them why their clothing is inappropriate or why their deity they pray to isn’t the right one. It should be a no-brainer but you’d be surprised.”

Smith also says even if you are just going for vacation, helping and partnering with a neighboring community service program can make the experience all the better and more worthwhile.

Hibiscus Travels is a service abroad program in Costa Rica that offers opportunities for students here at Texas State to learn more about getting culturally immersed while teaching English, learning Spanish and helping the community and wildlife.

“The best way to get immersed is to explore and mix yourself with the local community,” said program provider Lauren Markey. “It can be tempting to escape into Netflix or stay glued to your phone as a crutch to American society. It is important to go see the beauty and culture of new places and get involved with the community.”

Smith also said that if you are volunteering make sure you do research on what program you are partnering with. Make sure it is a volunteer program that is within your realm and your skill set.

“You may be a nursing student and applying to medical programs abroad, that would actually be beneficial because you would be bringing some skill sets to the table,” Smith said. “If you don’t know how to handle a hospital and you’re just there to get some photo ops then you’re not doing anybody any good.”

Texas State Student and HEAT abroad coordinator Bridget Vallefuoco said while in Thailand people unknowingly are supporting the harmful act of riding elephants when the business actually is abusive to the elephants. So, while abroad she helps volunteer to care for the them at an elephant nature park without the desire to ride them in hopes that it will cause the business to have a shift in mentality.

“Whether it’s animal, environmental, or human welfare causes, all are equally important,” Vallefuoco said. “It’s really important to get the information out there because so many people just don’t know what’s going on and they’ll go over and support these harmful activities because they don’t have the right information.”

There are many challenges to going abroad including language barriers and culture shock. That is why it is important to immerse yourself in the culture, prepare properly and do your research, keep an open mind, and be respectful of other cultures and traditions.

For more information or if you are interested in learning more about going abroad and volunteering you can get in touch with HEAT at Texas State University on their Facebook page.

If you are interested in volunteering or gaining internship abroad with Hibiscus Travels, visit their website.

Featured image by Joyana Richer.

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