Adaptation in different locations: how to manage in unusual destinations

 When Carlos arrived in China, he noticed something curious: “I look like a child who needs to learn to speak and read everything again”. As scary as that was, it also revealed to him that there was a new world to be discovered there, which he found very exciting.

Carlos Henrique Pires, CCTV journalism assistant, had only been studying Mandarin for two months when he went to China for the first time in 2010, after winning a competition at the Confucius Institute (where he was studying). The two weeks he spent there were impactful enough to make him want to come back. And then, from August 2011 to June 2012, he spent another year studying in Wuhan, a city in the center of the country.

Like Carlos, other exchange students saw in unusual destinations an opportunity to have contact with very different cultures and learn to “get by”. This is also the case for lawyer Monyse Almeida, a student of MBA Atlântico , thanks to which she stayed in Luanda, capital of Angola, from May to August 2017. “The reason was precisely to leave the comfort zone, of the same references”, says .

The experience helped them to develop an enormous capacity for adaptation, understanding of different ways of thinking and respect for other cultures. And then, they offer some tips for those who want to venture into unusual destinations.

A strange language

You may not remember the Russian duo tATu that was successful in the early 2000s with the song “All The Things She Said”. But it was through her that Gabriel Caio de Souza (currently residing in oncology pharmacy at Hospital São Paulo) had his first contact with the Russian language and was eager to learn more.

“I was going to be alone for a year, but in the end I saw that there was little to be able to learn. And in order for me to be able to continue there, I needed to take some course there. So I decided to study Pharmacy, which was a course I was already going to take here ”, he recalls. In total, Gabriel stayed from 2009 to 2015 in the city of Belgorod, about 600 kilometers from Moscow.

“There were already about 50 Brazilians living there when I arrived, and I had help from them. Without them it would have been very difficult, because it was in the interior of Russia and no one spoke English, ”he says.

Carlos, in China, also had help in his early days. At the school where she was studying, there was a teacher who taught Portuguese for Chinese, and she chose some of her students to be “angels”: those responsible for helping foreigners to take their first steps in the country.

“My name, 'Carlos', if I made a mistake the tone would become 'screw' in Mandarin”

Because it is a tonal language, Chinese causes some confusion for those who are not used to it. “My name, 'Carlos', if I made a mistake the tone would become 'screw' in Mandarin”, says Carlos. “Every Brazilian who goes to China takes about 3 or 4 months to get that one unlocked. Because we don't have contact with the language in Brazil, so we don't have any vocabulary reference ”, he says.

What helps in these cases is to learn some basic phrases. Rômulo Siqueira, who studied mechanical engineering at Kaist University in Daejeon, South Korea, between 2015 and 2016, did this. “When I saw that I was approved, I started to study Korean. I used an app to at least know the alphabet, so I already got there knowing how to read, even without understanding. And I learned a few simple phrases, like saying hi, asking for water, etc. ”.

During the year he stayed there, he took Korean classes along with college subjects, and considers that today he speaks the basics. “In Korean, you need to know how to change your speech depending on who you're talking to. If you are going to say 'hi' to a friend, or to a child, it is one way; for older people it is another way, and if it is for your boss it is still another way ”, he says.

Tito Ferraz Ribeiro, who in 2006 completed his 3rd year of high school in Denmark through a Rotary program, was not so “lucky”. “We were kind of thrown there. It was not expected that you would perform academically, but that you would go to class, ”he says. Nowadays, he says he speaks and understands Danish relatively well. "But I already have around 10,000 hours of experience listening to Danish without understanding anything."

Different food

For Carlos, in China, the issue of language was mixed with food at a critical point. “The food in China is very hot. So the first thing that teachers teach is 'I don't want pepper'. But sometimes we forgot how to say that and couldn't eat ”, he says.

Even without pepper, Carlos found the food strange. “For breakfast, for example, they eat pasta, pastry, egg soup. It took a while, but I got used to it ”, he comments. There was also the question of schedules: at the university where he stayed, dinner was only served until 6:30 pm, because in China you have dinner earlier.

When he missed home food, what Carlos could do was turn to fast food chains. “McDonalds exists there, but it is also spicy. Other than that, there was also Pizza Hut and KFC, but it was also difficult to find a snack without pepper, ”he says. Even so, he says he got used to the food and that he likes it today.

Gabriel, in the interior of Russia, did not have that possibility. "Our happiness was when someone went to Moscow and brought a snack from McDonalds during the 12-hour train ride." Although he liked Russian food when he got there, adapting in the long run was difficult.

“I almost cried on the plane to Brazil when I ate a papaya, because there is almost no fresh fruit there”

“At first everything was very good. But the food there is very heavy. I ended up gaining about 15 kilos ”, he says. Then, the news passed “and I just missed the food here. I almost cried on the plane to Brazil when I ate a papaya, because there is almost no fresh fruit there ”, he recalls.

In South Korea, Rômulo also suffered a little with pepper. “Everything is very spicy there. And you eat Kimchi [chard or cabbage fermented with spices] for breakfast, for lunch, in the afternoon, all the time. At first I didn't like it, I had a stomach ache. Because over there, dropping food on the plate is frowned upon. But nowadays I like it ”, he points out.

On the other hand, eating different foods can also be a great way to get closer to another culture. This is a bit of what Tito describes when he talks about Christmas in Denmark: “There they have several Christmas lunches, each day in December with a different group of people. And on the day, you eat the special Christmas food, drink the Christmas drink, sing the Christmas music and dance around the tree ”.

Where's the sun?

Tito, who left Bahia and went to Denmark, says that on his first night in Denmark it was snowing, so he and his friends went out to see the snow. “I took a snowball to play with and my fingers were swollen from the cold,” he says. Even so, he really enjoyed experiencing the different climate. “Denmark, despite what they think, is moderately cold. In the winter I got there, the average was -4ºC ”, he says.

In Wuhan, China, Carlos faced a more complicated situation. In the heat, it is hotter than in São Paulo, as he remembers. And in the winter, he got to get two days of snow. But unlike Denmark, the houses there had no central heating or heating. “In the cold, nobody wanted to leave the room, just turn on the heater and stay there. Everyone from Brazil suffered, ”he recalls.

Getting used to other customs

At the beginning of his stay in South Korea, Rômulo went to buy something and, when paying, realized that the owner of the store looked at him ugly. It was only afterwards to discover the reason. “I gave the money with one hand. And there, everything that is given with one hand is as if it were given with anger or contempt ”, he says. For those who live there, it is something so natural that it seems that it is not even worth commenting on; but for outsiders, making a faux pas is practically the only way to find out.

In China, a friend of Carlos's went through a similar situation. Thanking a Chinese colleague who had helped her, she gave him a big hug. “He got very red and started to cry. And when we asked what it was, he said he was saving it for his first girlfriend ”, he says. “They don't like physical contact very much”, he adds.

Sometimes, these differences do not appear in the language, but in the way it is used, as Gabriel points out. “The Brazilian has difficulty hearing no. If the person is too direct, we are offended. And there [in Russia], they are very direct ”.

One point that Tito found strange in Denmark was that while he was talking to people, they made a strange noise: something between a sigh and a sob. Then, he realized that that was the signal they made to indicate that they were following the conversation - in the same way that we do "hm".

And, of course, there is the question of punctuality. According to Carlos, “In China, being 5 minutes late is a great lack of respect”. As in Brazil the schedules can be a little “flexible”, this can be a contentious point for those who arrive in a different place.

Through the eyes of others

Despite all these difficulties, experiencing these cultures allows you to broaden your horizons and, at times, even look at Brazil with new eyes. On the trip to South Korea, Rômulo went through such a process when he had to make a presentation about Brazil as part of his vacation internship at Hyundai.

“There, they love Brazil. They have a vision of us as a people who know how to work hard, but also know how to enjoy life very well. And after that, I went over the 'mongrel syndrome' and started to value more the things we do here ”, he says.

"After that, I went over the 'mongrel syndrome' and started to value more the things we do here"

Monyse, while in Luanda, ended up staying around the university. But she can attend the university gym (which they called “the gym”) where she discovered that there were Kuduro classes. In her view, it was an opportunity to “understand, with this body language, how they communicate”, in addition to meeting Angolans that she would not have known at the university.

In that contact, she also had access to a different view of Brazil. “In their view, we are kind of like the older brothers, so there is an aspirational and inspirational issue. And Brazil is very present in intangible and cultural issues ”, he says. For example, she came across Angolans who knew Brazilian bloggers and youtubers that she didn't even know.

For Gabriel, the years in Russia also brought the opportunity to develop desirable characteristics for anyone, both in professional and personal life. "I lived in a building with 15 different nationalities, so I had contact with a lot of people and learned to respect the customs of other students".

And after a few years in Russia, he says, “I ended up being a veteran. So when other Brazilian students arrived, I was going to show the city, solve their problems, and so I started to acquire responsibility ”, he says.

Carlos, while in China, was invited by a Chinese friend to spend the Chinese New Year with her family. "It is a very big thing, it means that the person is very important to you". And then he had the opportunity to see what a Chinese home was like, how they celebrate the date with many fires, and to participate in the supper. "It was the best experience I had in China," he says.

7 tips to facilitate adaptation in different locations

1 - Go with your head open

“There is no point in going elsewhere if you are not prepared to accept things that would be unacceptable to you,” comments Gabriel. And it can be more difficult than it looks. Carlos gives an example of his experience in China: “the Chinese burp on the street, and before I used to judge a lot”, he says.

“But,” he continues, “according to Confucianism, which is part of their culture, everything that is bad has to come out. So it's good and natural for them ”. According to Carlos, this ability he developed to understand and respect even very different behaviors was his greatest learning experience.

2 - Look for new comforts

In Rômulo's experience, one thing that helps in adapting to different places is to seek, in this new culture, for things that replace what you were used to in your culture. “I love feijoada, but there [in South Korea] there was no feijoada. But then I found out that I love ramen too, ”he says.

This discovery, however, was only possible because he set out to "not suffer from what he did not have". “The group that least adapted was the group that continued to do what they did in Brazil,” he recalls. He believes, therefore, that not being stuck with the things you already like is better.

3 - Speak badly, but speak the local language

Carlos recommends that anyone who goes to China at least try to speak Chinese, even if they speak almost nothing and even if they need to switch to English right away. “Even if you only know how to say 'hi', they will say that your Chinese is great. And you're learning too ”, he considers.

But he also cites another reason for this, which makes this an interesting tip for any destination you travel to. "This will show that you are trying to speak the local language, and it is not there in a US tourist standard that thinks that everyone has to speak English," he says. Thus, trying to speak the local language (even if very badly) can end up being a way of showing respect.

4 - Seek help from those who already have experience

Monyse and Gabriel strongly recommend that, before leaving for a different destination, the traveler talks to those who have been there. "We always imagine what awaits us there, but only those who have been there know this for sure", says Gabriel.

In the case of Monyse, before leaving for Luanda she talked to other students who had already gone there on the same exchange program. "They told things that even the school could not tell, because they did not experience that cultural shock," he recalls.

5 - Prepare yourself as you can

One thing Carlos recommends to anyone who goes to a place with food very different from his is to take medicines that can help. If you already know that this or that pill can save your life if you feel sick, it is worth taking some of them (but not many, after all, the transport of medicines between countries is controlled).

And even if you need to skip a few steps in your language course, it is worth learning basic phrases to order a taxi, call a doctor or something

6 - Search the literature of your destination

Monyse offers an interesting tip: read the literature of the country where you are going. “I set out to read Ondjaki, Pepetela and Agualusa [Angolan novelists] before going there to go with some repertoire. I thought it was better than visiting the country due to the coldness and partiality of history, which is usually written by the Portuguese, ”he says.

This literary research, in her view, made a lot of difference. "I paid more attention to the architecture and details described in the novels, and I think I immersed myself more in the country like that," he says.

7 - Value your destiny

Tito considers that there is no reason to “be afraid” of a different destination, such as Denmark, China, Russia or South Korea. we have experience in mandarin or something that is yet to be discovered ”, he says.

Therefore, in his experience, the opportunity to visit these destinations is something that should be valued. "Think that to go to the United States or to go to Paris you will probably have another chance in life", he considers.

"In the summer, 10:30 pm it was still clear and 4:30 am it was already dawn"

Even Gabriel, who stayed in the Russian winter, did not suffer as much from the cold thanks to the heating of the buildings. But he went through another difficulty: “I was never a fan of the sun, but there I missed it because in the winter it was dawn at about 9 am and at 4 pm it was getting dark. It makes you more depressed, ”he says. “And in the summer, 10:30 pm it was still clear and 4:30 am it was already dawn, so that was boring too”, he adds.

For Monyse in Luanda, heat was not a problem. However, the heat brought mosquitoes, and at the time she went, travelers were told to use repellent. “We spent all day. And I had to go over the day, ”he says

Post a Comment