How do I get in touch with locals and the culture? Glad you asked! This is the first post in a series on getting in touch with locals during travels. Check back for more, or subscribe via email to never miss a beat.
On my own, I’m kind of a quiet traveler. I can be happy browsing the local culture, sipping coffee quietly at a cafe, sitting at a square to people-watch, and just chilling out. I watch, I read, I infer — and to an extent I acquire quite a bit of knowledge on what it’s like to be a local.
And then one day I signed up for Spanish language lessons in Guatemala, and my idea of what it was like to really get in touch with the locals, or at least how to do it, changed. I went from watching and browsing to having long, in-depth conversations (well as much as my language learning let me progress) with a native about their culture. It wasn’t sitting at a bar and being approached by a few locals that could speak a little English, it was talking in depth about how our cultures were different, how our home life was, and how we want our futures to be shaped.
With language lessons, I was forced to be introduced to a culture each and everyday. Our teachers would take us out to excursions, and share their family dishes. It was easy because it was part of the program, so that meant there wasn’t any awkward breaking the ice that would come with finding randoms on the street.
Instead of knowing about them [the locals], I felt like I could actually relate to them.
I tell people all the time that learning a language is the best way to travel, if you are traveling for learning’s sake. Not only do you acquire a second language, you also acquire a real knowledge of the people living there. I am forever changed by the 4 months I spent sitting in front of a Kyrgyz person chatting away about life. I understand them. I see through the non-smiling faces to know that there is a warm center to be loved and respected.
What I paid in lesson fees were more than returned through the connections I made, and personally, I can’t think of planning long-term travel without the addition of a language lesson or two in the beginning.