by Juan Alvarado, Western Union employee
The unavoidable mix of sensations that anyone gets when leaving one’s country to another, may it be for traveling, studying, working or living, becomes 10 times stronger when the culture is completely different.
If you live in the United States, Canada or the UK, the chances of you feeling as a fish out of water, are slim. The language and culture are similar enough that everything will feel more comfortable.
To actually leave a country that has a culture radically different from your own, alongside a language that presents no similarities at a first glance, the game changes a bit, and the level of mixed feelings can be an integral part of the experience.
What is farther or more different than an Asian culture if you are a Westerner? Let’s ease that feeling with some advice that will make your trip or stay feel like a breeze.
- Prepare to feel like a celebrity
Your skin color, your hair style, your clothes or even your height, will be a magnet for the Asian culture’s eyes, especially the farther you go from major cities. You don’t need to be a celebrity to be asked for a picture.
- Get ready to bargain
Asian culture differs from Western culture in the way you buy things, specially in China, where the price of an item is just the starting point. If you can master the art of bargaining or negotiating, you’ll definitely get that special souvenir a lot cheaper than the asking price.
- Don’t be scared of the food
The food in Asia can be a main theme of discussion. Did you eat something “weird”? “How’s the food in Vietnam?” The answer is totally up to you, but sometimes that “weird” food can be the revelation of your trip. In China for instance, I was truly mesmerized by a noodle restaurant that made you the noodles in front of you. The level of technique in the making and the delicious results are, one of the main reasons I can’t wait to go back; although not the only one, so many amazing things await your palate!
- Prepare for the lower prices of your life
The ticket to Asia and the hotel may be the expected price or even lower than normal, but once in the country, you will see that everything is much lower than you may have thought. Food, can be a shock in terms of how much you get for very little money. The same goes for souvenirs. My recommendation? Go where the locals go, not the venues filled with tourists.
- Learn customs beforehand, and ways that will ease the interaction with locals
Many people that visit Asian countries don’t know proper cultural customs. Research what to do and what not to do before your trip. For example, Asians put respect as paramount in order to have a good society; this can open more doors than you might think.
- Know that language will be a barrier at some point
You don’t need to learn the local language when traveling to Asia, but there will be a moment where a translator app might be able to ease your interactions. In major cities, there will always be a way to get someone to translate or explain something, but if you go to less touristy places, things might can get interesting.
Try to make things simple, like downloading an app to translate or guide your way around the city. No access to Internet? Always carry a map with you, and don’t be afraid, the locals are as helpful as they can be.
Having these things in mind will make you a seasoned traveler of Asia. I wish I would’ve known these things before I departed, so now you know, and I can vouch that a trip to the mysterious orient will be the trip of a life time. Go for it!