If you’re like me – from a small city somewhere in Europe – chances are that most of your friends were born and raised in exactly the same place. University is your biggest opportunity to form close friendships with similar minded people from different countries and cultures. Could there be a better way of experiencing them other than visiting their country?
Most people I met are proud of their heritage and are keen to share it. Visiting them allows you to fully dive into their culture by being part of their family and daily routines. You don’t just look at it like in a museum, you live it. You don’t try an overpriced meal in a restaurant, you help prepare it in the kitchen. After a year of Austro-Bengali exchange, one of my first friends from university insisted I should visit him in Bangladesh and he would show me around the country. We covered all major cities, heritage sites, natural wonders and cultural regions. The whole family went on a trip with me to see every corner and understand the differences between the districts – unbelievable trip!
When it comes to exploring the city or country you’re in, you’re accompanied by the best guide one could wish for! Obviously, somebody who has spent ~18 years in a place and knows all about its history and culture as well as the best places to eat authentically or listen to local music. Additionally, your friend knows and understands your needs, fears, interests and can accommodate the tour to your liking.
During my visit to Singapore as part of the Manchester Global Graduates Programme, I visited a recently graduated course mate. He knew I loved getting in touch with locals and take part in their celebrations. So, he rounded up a bunch of friends and we explored the Ramadan celebrations at night time. To accommodate my Austrian nature, we went for a hike on a local mountain with an absolute stunning view. All stuff I would have missed travelling on my own!
Apart from enhancing your travels, you can do it on a budget, too. The only major expense you’ll make is to book some flights or trains. You can couch-surf at theirs, cook at home and avoid tourist-traps. Make sure you’ll bring a gift or take them for a meal once or twice to show your gratitude!
On the flip side, you can also host someone else! Actively invite others and make plans early, especially if the other party has to apply for a visa, as the application can take several weeks. Hosting others can also get you in touch with your own home again. I had tons of fun taking a Bruneii and Bahreini friend around Salzburg and was able to reconnect with parts of the city I haven’t seen in ages. Furthermore, I have hosted an Indonesian, a Lithuanian, two French and an Australian!
Sometimes you might be confronted with ways of thinking, habits or practices you will find hard to cope with or do not agree with. Make sure you do some research before you embark on a trip like this, to avoid awkward situations. Should I host you for instance, I’d expect you to be ready 5 minutes before an activity – punctuality is king in Germanic countries! But everything can be discussed and clarified beforehand and both will know each other’s habits and expectations.
Visiting and hosting friends will broaden your horizon and reveal sides of travelling you wouldn’t have imagined. All it takes is an open mid-set and an invitation.