3 Tips for Adapting to Your Host Culture

This is the third blog in a four-part series on teaching English abroad. When people go abroad to work, they have the very best of intentions about learning the language, making friends, and so much more. This post discusses three common problems in fulfilling those intentions and offers suggestions.

Learning the Host Language
Since your job is to teach English, opportunities to use the host language can be quite scarce, especially if you are working in a metropolitan area. This is particularly true if you are working in a country where you are noticeably a “foreigner.” Even strangers will want to practice their English with you. After a year in China, I decided that if I wanted to learn Mandarin I would have to be deliberate about finding someone to speak it with me, so I set up tables with other Mandarin learners and native Mandarin speakers. Once or twice a week, we would have a lunch where we only spoke Mandarin. I also tried working with a personal tutor, taking intensive two- or three-week courses, and creating my own language learning plans. A combination of these strategies has resulted not only in fluency but also in gaining my students’ respect.

Making Local Friends
When you arrive, you will likely find it easier to make friends with other foreigners. These friends are important for your adjustment to the host culture, and I would not discourage such relationships. However, if you have a hobby, like basketball, then try to find out if any of the local staff play basketball as well. Even if you cannot speak much of the language, you can still play basketball. It’s also likely some of the local staff will have good English skills. This person can be your cultural informant when you experience intercultural conflict. Complaining only to other foreigners can lead to stereotypes and an overall dissatisfaction with the host country.

Getting Other Things Done
Many people want to travel and learn new skills (e.g., calligraphy) when they move to a new country. However, everything takes more time in a new culture. As much as possible, only sign up for about 80 percent of what you would normally do in your own country. You need to save that extra 20 percent of energy for all it takes to get accustomed to a new living environment. If you have moved by yourself, you need extra energy to build a new community while learning a new culture and language. If you have moved with family, you also need to help them adjust.

Moving to a new country for work is a big commitment, so you don’t want to expend energy relocating just to leave after a short time. Following these suggestions can make your experience richer. Learning the host language, making local friends, and taking time to experience the culture can make you happier and more effective in the EFL classroom. For more suggestions, check out the latest edition of TESOL Press’s More than a Native Speaker!

The Other Posts in This Series

About Maxi-Ann Campbell

Maxi-Ann Campbell received her master's degree in applied linguistics from Georgia State University. She currently teaches academic writing and oral communication at Duke Kunshan University in China. Her research focuses on improving attitudes towards nonnative English accents, and best practices for teaching English as a foreign language. Aside from teaching and research, she does teacher training for novice EFL teachers. She is coauthor of the third edition of TESOL Press’s "More than a Native Speaker."
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2 Responses to 3 Tips for Adapting to Your Host Culture

  1. Emma Tudor says:

    Great post! And absolutely on point! From my experience working in Brazil, China, Spain and even the US (which is a foreign country to me – since I’m from the UK) it’s very easy to stay in the expect bubble. However, by making just a small effort to reach outside of this is totally worth the effort and will truly enrich your working abroad experience 🙂

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