8 Tips for Studying Abroad and Living Like A Local
If you are familiar with Grace College, you know that we have a heartbeat for global initiatives. It has been evidenced most recently when one of our own Communication professors, Pat Loebs, taught for a semester in Hungary. In August of 2019, Pat packed up his things, said farewell to Winona Lake, and moved his family of five to Budapest for his sabbatical.
Although the Loebs’ left all things familiar in Indiana, they attempted to live a normal life in Budapest. Pat taught three courses at Károli Gáspár University while his wife stayed home with their three girls. Living in another country reminded Pat why he is an advocate for studying abroad. In fact, he has a number of recommendations for embracing life in another culture.
1. Go grocery shopping--you will find things you didn’t know existed.
Naturally, one of the first things the Loebs’ family did in Hungary was shopping for groceries. It didn’t take long into their browsing to realize that they would have to adjust to a new way of cooking and eating. Part of the fun was hunting down ingredients with different names and packages. Heidi, Pat’s wife enjoyed experimenting with local ingredients and spices she found.
2. Find a coffee shop off the beaten path and just sit.
Talk to the barista. Ask her what she recommends. Drink what the locals drink. Find a seat, and sip your coffee. “Watch people and make observations,” Pat recommended. Do most people come in groups or alone? What kind of music is playing? Is this a place people come to work or socialize? You can learn a lot about a place just by paying attention to the details, and once you find a cafe you enjoy, become a regular.
3. Build relationships with local people.
When you are in a new context, it’s easy (and natural) to gravitate towards people who are also transplants, but you will miss out if you don’t befriend locals. As a professor at Károli, Pat got to know some of his colleagues. One weekend, another professor invited the Loebs’ to visit his family home in southern Hungary, three hours south of the capital. The professor’s family did not speak a word of English yet sharing experiences with them provided the Loebs’ an inside look at Hungarian culture. Heidi even got to participate in traditional Hungarian strudel-making on that trip.
4. Get out of the city center. Explore the small towns that visitors don’t typically visit.
Pat described visiting the small town mentioned above: “My girls and I walked around this little town of one thousand people that I don’t think that a tourist would ever step foot in. But in doing so, we learned so much about the people, and saw what they’ve been through.”
5. Notice and appreciate cultural differences.
Living in Hungary with three small girls, Pat noticed the locals gave extra attention and concern to young children. If the Loebs’ were on public transit and there was nowhere for his girls to sit, someone would always give up his or her seat. If it was a cool day, pedestrians on the street would show concern for the girls’ warmth. This was the result of a more collectivistic culture. There was a common concern for the good of the community, and Pat found this interesting to learn about.
6. Go to a cathedral and sit.
“Not a tourist church, just a church,” Pat clarified. “Realize that religious practice is ancient. Sit and ponder the many who have sat where you are, what they prayed for, what they celebrated, and what they mourned.”
7. Participate in the holidays that are most meaningful to locals.
Perhaps one of the most distinct experiences of Pat’s time abroad was November 1. On this day, Hungary celebrates All Saints Day, a day in which Hungarians honor the dead and the legacies that remain. In the evening, businesses close, and families gather to make their annual visit to the cemeteries where they hold small vigils for their ancestors. “The cemeteries are huge and they’re all lit up in candlelight. And it’s just beautiful. It’s an amazing November evening and all the leaves are orange and there are thousands of people gathering to commemorate those who came before. That is something tourists would not usually see,” said Pat.
8. Be a student of the culture.
Global encounters are valuable for everyone. Although Pat went to Hungary to teach, he postured himself as a student of Budapest culture. Whether you are 19 or 72, a student or a professor — learning never stops.
And that is what studying abroad is all about.
If you are a student who is itching to study abroad, consider our exchange program or even our International Communication minor which sets you up to study abroad in Hungary at Károli Gáspár University, the largest Protestant college in Hungary. And studying abroad goes both ways–if you are an international student wanting to study in America, we have more information on enrollment available to you.
To hear a student’s perspective on studying abroad, read our stories:
“The Going: How Grace Women’s Soccer Player Flavia Faria Played Professional Ball During Her Time Abroad” and “The Coming: How Virág Zábó came to the U.S. and took her Impressive Resume to the Next Level.”