Manual Antonio National Park Costa Rica

Want to know sure-fire ways to mess up the investment you’re making in an internship abroad? Never fear! We’ve compiled the most commonly committed faux pas, so that you can be wily enough to avoid making these mistakes abroad…

Always expecting direction

An internship abroad allows you the opportunity to “dip your toe into the pool of possibilities”. You’ll be introduced to a placement and assist alongside local teams who’ll expect you to be proactive and independent. This doesn’t mean you won’t have questions! However, you’ll be responsible for being forthcoming with your communication and bringing questions to the attention of staff. They’ll always be happy to help and share guidance, insight, and anecdotes about their profession and culture. If you can identify a problem that you’d like to address, try to also identify a solution that you could bring to the table for discussion. Remember, this if your chance to be creative as you test classroom learning in real-world contexts!

Traditional coffee roasting in Guatemala

Competing for “authentic” experiences

If you’re aiming to compete for the most “authentic” exposure to a culture that’s very different from your own, you may be disappointed. Think critically about your expectations and take time to research your destination. While there may be differences, you’ll also find there are similarities as well - they could even surprise you! Be conscious of how you use social media to share impressions from your time abroad; seek to respect the dignity of your host community, culture, and environment. Take care to treat others the way that you’d like to be treated by foreign guests within your own community.

Llama above Machu Picchu

Viewing challenges as disadvantages

Viewing challenges as setbacks will set you back every time. To face a challenge properly, you’ll need to exert extra special effort – and it will probably make you feel a little uncomfortable! Don’t make the massive cultural faux pas of complaining about lack of English speakers in a non-English speaking country. Instead, stretch yourself to learn and practice the local lingo – even if you feel self-conscious and are afraid of making mistakes. Try the extraordinary local cuisine -even if it throws off your preferred diet plan. Express gratitude for what is shared with you - even if the Wi-Fi signal is weak and the showers are tepid. A positive attitude will make all the difference in how you perceive your experience and settle into a new environment.

Spanish lessons in Cusco

Comparing everything to home

You can’t be faulted for thinking of home and it’s normal to feel a little homesick sometimes. Everyone’s mind is programmed with their own cultural “software”, so it takes a conscious effort to question your “default settings” when automatically comparing new things to what you already know and feel comfortable with. Keep an open mind and accept that what is customary in your culture and community is not always the same in other places. Be prepared to share but, more importantly, be prepared to learn, listen and receive!

Tico farmer with livestock in Costa Rica

Not getting to know your host family

When accommodated with a local host family, they are supported financially to cover your food and board. However, host families are not hostel personnel! Their home is a special place to be shared and enjoyed. You’ll find your hosts are a wealth of knowledge and experience. Gracious etiquette goes a long way toward ensuring a positive social experience, for both hosts and guests. Polite extensions of gratitude includes asking to lend a hand, making speedy use of shared bathrooms, advising if you’ll be away at mealtimes, helping to conserve linens and towels, and keeping your space tidy. Get to know your hosts! They take pleasure in extending a warm welcome to guests from around the world.

Costa Rican home stay

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