By Rita Golden Gelman
Author, Tales of a Female Nomad, Living at Large in the World
I hope I’ve convinced the parents, youth, and educators who have read my blogs in the last two months that taking an international gap year after graduating from high school is not only an enriching educational experience for the young adult but also an absolutely necessary cultural practice for the country if we want to maintain our place in the global economy.
A Gap Year puts the participant ahead of his/her peers who ride that conveyer belt into college or a job. Colleges know that returned Gappers are ready for the personal and academic challenges that they will face in college. Businesses and corporations are also looking for workers with international experience. Yet, most Americans have never even heard about the idea of an international Gap Year.
My mission is to introduce the idea to high school counselors, parents, and kids. I’m hoping those of you who are reading this will introduce the idea to your community high school counselors and to every kid and parent you know. What a gift you will be giving!
Let’s Get Global!
I want to start a movement… from the ground up. That means that all of you reading this can take the idea into your community and run with it!
OK. Last time I promised to give some tips on how to connect across cultures. (A lot of the ideas work at home too.) Here are my top ten tips.
First, my general advice on travel… and life. It’s already been “published” on Starbucks’ Tall Cup Number 31! (It was never one of my aspirations, but I do love being a cup!)
Risk-taking, trust, and serendipity are key ingredients of joy.
Without risk, nothing new ever happens; without trust, fear creeps in;
without serendipity, there are no surprises.
10 Tips on Connecting Across Cultures
1. Smile a lot.
Wherever you are, people smile back, and you will discover that you are living in a world of smiles. That goes for where ever you are! Try walking down the street and smiling at everyone.
2. Be the first to say, “Hi.”
Indigenous people in the developing world are often intimidated by a stranger from America… but not if you show that you’re interested in interacting.
3. Don’t worry about language.
You have your smile, your eyes, your hands and body language… and be sure to always carry a pen and pad. Real bonding takes place when you ask people to teach you words in their language. And you dignify them by wanting to know their language.
4. Don’t worry about getting it wrong.
Ask to learn their crafts, their cooking, their chores. You’re sure to mess it up. Laughter, at and with you, is a powerful bonding tool.
5. Accept all invitations.
This one refers especially to people you meet in villages around the world. They may just want you to sit on their porch or drink a cup of tea in their house or go to a ceremony. Go ahead and do it. (If you are female and young and pretty, you will want to assess any male “inviters” before you go off with them!)
6. Eat everything you’re offered.
An offer of food is a gift from the heart. Accept it warmly… and eat it! It probably will not kill you.
7. Don’t try to teach your ways… unless asked.
Think of your visit as a learning experience.
8. Hug and hold the babies; play with the kids.
In a lot of cultures the kids belong to the community; try to become a part of it. I carry bubbles, though these days the bottles have to go in the checked baggage.
9. Dress like the locals.
If everyone is wearing a local style of dress, ask someone to help you buy an outfit, and wear it (eg: India has the salwar kameez, and it’s incredibly comfortable).
10. Sing and dance with the locals, if invited to join.
Leave your self-consciousness at home. It’s OK to get it wrong and look awkward. Again, the laughter will be at and with you… and it will humanize you.
Look for my little book of tips that I hope to publish soon! Meanwhile, I invite you all to visit my site: Rita Golden Gelman. I’d be happy to hear from anyone who would like to add to my list or just “connect.” For me, the joy of my life is in the connecting. Fremalenomad (at) ritagoldengelman (dot) com
I’d be happy to hear thoughts and comments about the Gap Year as well.
Happy journey, wherever it may take you.
Female Nomad and Friends, Breaking Free and Breaking Bread Around the World, an anthology of 41 different authors and more than 30 fantastic international recipes. All royalties from this book are sending slum kids in New Delhi to vocational schools via Rotary International.
Multi-Cultural Group: Visions Service Adventures
Tourist with Local: bugflickr via Flickr
Local Kissing Tourist: WanderTours
Playing with Local Kid: Vera & Jean-Christophe via Flickr
Vietnam Street Food: McKay Savage via Flickr
Dancing with Locals: 143d ESC via Flickr