Getting the Most Out of a Cultural Exchange

Through traveling abroad and with my experiences interning with the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) department this summer, I have come to discover how important and valuable it is to connect and share ideas with different people from around the world. Recently, I returned from studying in Tours, France for a month, and the experiences I gained from simply getting to know the people I was living and going to school with everyday were ones that I will never forget.


The school I attended during my stay was designed for international students from around the world looking to improve their French language skills. In typical French fashion, my classmates and I would go to cafes after class and spend time talking about what life was like in our respective home countries.

I met students from all around the world and we would talk about anything and everything from college to food to family life. Seeing as this was my first true study abroad experience, it was here that I learned the value of sharing your own culture with others. By spending time with international students, I was not only learning about different ways of life throughout the world, but I became more aware of my own in the process. Every night I would eat dinner with my host family and we would talk about what my life was like in America and what I was involved with in college. At the same time, I learned about how French culture compares in terms of college life, the value they place on eating meals together as a family, and even my host family’s own experiences traveling abroad. By sharing about my life in America, I ended up gaining an even better understanding of life in France.

Looking back on my month abroad, I do not think I would have come to know France in the same manner had I not lived with a host family, met international students, and truly experienced the culture. It felt like a second home for the few short weeks I was there, but I believe this to be true because I was eager to share and learn from the people I surrounded myself with during my time abroad.

Fast forward to this summer, and this idea reinforced itself even more. As the IVLP intern, I was fortunate enough to escort two guests from Turkey and Mexico to a “Home Hospitality” dinner at an American family’s home just outside of downtown Indianapolis. Because the evening was focused on getting to know these guests, I was able to observe this concept of sharing cultures and ideas being put into play. Both guests talked about their lives at home, their careers, their passions and the cities of Istanbul and Mexico City that they have come to love.

As we learned more about them, the hosts shared about their lives in America and in the end, everyone was able to take away something of value from the conversation. The two guests gained insight on the culture of the United States, and we gained insight into the culture of Turkey and Mexico. One of the guests even told me at the end of the evening how much she valued her time with this family, as it gave her a great opportunity to truly get a taste of American culture in a relaxed setting outside of the appointments they attended all week.

In the process of meeting new people from different countries, I have come to see how interconnected our world truly is. As I have shared more about myself abroad and with this internship, I have come to relate with people who share the same interests as I. I have found people who have inspired me to continue pursuing my love for travel, and I have made new friendships that I will keep and cherish for years to come. To get the most out of a cultural exchange, I think it is essential to be open to sharing your ideas and what you value, because that is how we connect with others no matter where we come from.

 

By Mallory Noble, International Visitor Leadership Program Intern