Communication is the means by which people initiate, maintain and end their relationships with others. It is a process that requires the active participation of two or more people who are simultaneously sending and receiving messages. Communication is shaped by culture, as it is bound by cultural contexts.As we become a smaller world, you will notice that you don’t have to travel all that far to experience the need for being culturally competent. Globalization has played a role in this: fast travel, international media and the internet have connected people from all over the world. Interacting with people from different cultures and countries is impossible to avoid.
Intercultural communication requires us not only to recognize and appreciate cultural differences, but also to develop skills to effectively interact with others from different cultural backgrounds. As Americans, we have the advantage to excel in intercultural communication, yet often fall short in doing so. We have unlimited resources to learn about the people, places and customs of our travel destinations, it is just a matter of accepting the challenge to use these tools.
Ideas for Communicating Effectively when Traveling:Be aware of your own culture and style of communication. Self-awareness can help in assessing many issues that may arise in attempting to connect with those around you. Are you a direct or indirect communicator? What kind of nonverbal cues do you use that you might not even realize you are making? How strong is the eye-contact you are making? Culturally, these are all relevant parts of communication that will determine how effectively your message is received.
Try to listen and observe rather than speak and make assumptions. As Americans, we tend to talk over others, raise our voices when our words aren’t received the way we want them to be, and listen only to answer a question. While this style of communication might work amongst fellow Americans, it probably won’t get you very far when interacting with softer, less abrasive communicators. In being observant, one can witness the gestures, cues and rhythms in which natives interact. How close do they stand? Do they use touch? Do their eyes meet, or do they look away?Assumptions can be a hindrance to not only you, the traveler, but also the recipient of your message. One of the most common assumptions in intercultural communication is that “the message I am sending is not the message being received”. This isn’t always true, and can be prevented if the traveler is culturally sensitive and prepares ahead of time for the problems they may encounter. Intercultural communication doesn’t have to be a clash of communication styles- in fact, this situation is very avoidable, with the proper research and preparation. We often assume “worst-case-scenarios” in environments and amongst cultures that are unfamiliar. Being flexible, not taking things too personally, and using pre-determined strategies to communicate effectively will help to reduce stress in these tense moments.
Often subconsciously, we humans tend to classify or categorize others based on their race, sex, age or occupation. We tend to see others not as individuals, but rather, as parts of these larger groups. This can cause us to lose opportunities to connect with others and gain so much valuable information. For example- you’re traveling in Spain, looking for something to do. You pass an older man walking down the street. You might think, “Oh, he’s just an old man- what would he know about the new nightclubs in Madrid?” when in reality, he could be the owner of one! If you make assumptions because of these groupings and don’t attempt to communicate, you could miss a world of insight and connections.
__________________________________________________________________________There are many benefits to intercultural communication. With every destination comes a world of knowledge to be gained about the culture and traditions of that place. The educational aspect of this part of travel will be valuable in many aspects of your journey, and overall, can contribute to making your trip a positive experience.
You may be exposed to “hidden gems” in your destination that only the locals know about. That, in itself, is a risk worth taking for any travel lover. As with the “old man” example above, that traveler could have been given a VIP access pass to the club of their dreams, but only because they chose to communicate.Locals and natives of the place you are visiting are likely to be more welcoming of you, the visitor, if you make an attempt to communicate as equals and communicate in the style that they do. While sometimes awkward, the gesture is generally appreciated. In making the attempt, people will generally be empathetic to your struggles and offer to help as they can. Hopefully, you can both get a laugh out of your failures, too. While often frustrating, the challenges of intercultural communication can prove to be great opportunities for personal growth.