What is the true value of cultural immersion?

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Discover the benefits of cultural immersion – there are many ways to learn a language these days. You can sign up for classes at a local community centre, hire a tutor, download an app, or watch YouTube videos. And you can do all of that without ever leaving the safety of your city.

But, where’s the fun in that?

Traveling abroad for your English language journey is guaranteed to be life changing.

Truly immersing yourself in a new language and culture provides an opportunity you just can’t replicate from your own country. It offers you the chance to view the world from a different perspective, to develop your language skills in an authentic environment, to engage with others from diverse backgrounds and to test your own values.

What is Cultural Immersion?

Cultural immersion is the process of immersing oneself in the culture of a specific country or place. But, how does someone go about achieving this? What are the benefits?

Studying abroad is a great way to culturally immerse yourself because it takes you our of a “visit” context and instead allows you to live in the place as a student. As a result, rather than receiving the romanticized view that visitors do, you are exposed to the realities of country living on a daily basis.

You get to interact with, study with, and socialize with locals, many of whom you will likely become friends with and keep in touch with. They can offer a vast amount of information about their home country.

Below are the key benefits of the cultural immersion experience you’ll enjoy on a study abroad program.

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Linguistic development

The benefits of learning an additional language are indisputable.

Aside from the obvious value of being able to communicate in another language, learning another language can help improve your memory, creative thinking skills, problem-solving skills and social interactions.

Combining formal classroom instruction and the spontaneous exchanges that occur outside the classroom provides the ideal balance to study and then practice a new language.

In the classroom

If you’re learning a language in a country where the majority speaks it, the classroom will provide a safe and non-judgemental environment to explore the language with a native speaker as a guide.

That guide (your teacher) will introduce you to the principles of the language and also impart valuable knowledge of the local culture.

Trained teachers create lessons and contexts that help learners focus their language learning.

For example, in a Business English class the teacher may build a lesson around how to participate in a meeting. In addition to investigating typical vocabulary and phrases used in a meeting context, the teacher will also introduce expected business etiquette for that culture. The teacher will then recreate a scenario in which students have to practice the language and cultural knowledge they’ve acquired.

The classroom provides a framework for students to develop their language skills and a safe environment to assess their progress.

Outside the classroom

Everyone has heard the expression “practice makes perfect”. Learning a language is no different. You have to practice using the language if you want to master it. What better way to practice than in a country that doesn’t speak your native language?

The true magic happens outside the classroom when you’re suddenly thrust into a world that forces you to use the language skills you’ve been studying each day.

Taking the bus, ordering a coffee, making plans over the phone with a local – every interaction offers the potential for you to practice and grow your language skills. What’s more, it’s all done in a spontaneous and authentic manner, pushing you to really USE what you’ve been studying.

Practicing your English on native speakers in your new community will also help you identify gaps in your language. Those gaps are opportunities to improve and can be explored with your teacher in the classroom!

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Cultural understanding

If you’re learning English (or any new language), culture must be an essential part of your journey. Effective communication can only happen if you understand the people you’re talking to and how to properly address them!

Nothing can teach you more about a culture than jumping right in and interacting with the people from that culture. It’s a no-brainer!

Of course you’ll make social mistakes and blunders, but trial and error always leads to improvement. Most people are pretty tolerant when it comes to cultural differences, and even if you slip up, locals will gently guide you in the right direction.

Real learning occurs as a result of critical thinking triggered by a disorienting event. It’s like when a child touches a hot stove. The consequence teaches the child that he shouldn’t do that again.

The same is true of language and culture. Meeting an English Canadian for the first time often involves a firm handshake. If you try to offer a kiss on the cheek, the Canadian might be embarrassed and slightly put off. Their reaction teaches you to avoid kissing as a greeting in future situations.

The accumulation of all the little cultural lessons from being immersed helps a language student better understand the surrounding culture over time. You’ll become aware of your own ethnocentrism and hopefully build a greater tolerance for ambiguity and differing communication patterns.

Personal growth

Traveling abroad will broaden your mind and teach you important life lessons. Everything is new – from the weather and food to the way people interact with one another. You’ll be forced to adapt at every turn and question your own way of seeing and behaving in the world.

Unlike a one-week whirlwind beach trip at a fancy resort, you’ll be amongst locals in their natural environment who are just going about their daily lives and mostly unaware of your personal journey. You’ll be expected to manage and navigate this new world on your own.

You might discover that you have to rely on yourself for the first time in your life. Finding an apartment, grocery shopping, cooking meals, taking transit and opening bank accounts… all in a new culture and language.

At times you’ll be frustrated and wish things were more like at ‘home’. That’s normal and all part of the beauty of stepping outside your comfort zone. You might also discover you love the challenges of being in a foreign world and welcome the freedom to choose for yourself.

Every time you manage to overcome a cultural or linguistic obstacle, whether gracefully or not, you’ll have grown a little: you’ll be a little more confident, a little more independent and a lot more open to new ways of living and seeing the world.

Check out how Global Village in Victoria and Calgary can help you start your immersion journey.

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The final word

Being able to speak to and learn from native speakers from the country you’re visiting will open doors to experiences you never thought possible… experiences you couldn’t possibly access from your own home.

It can be scary and challenging, but nothing is more rewarding than finally succeeding in adjusting to new surroundings. Language is the fastest route to acceptance and understanding in a different culture.

If you’re open minded and willing to take the risk of making mistakes, immersing yourself in the culture of the language you’re learning is guaranteed to speed up your language progress. But it’s also guaranteed to leave you with valuable lessons… lessons you’ll carry with you and impart to others throughout a lifetime.

“Some people travel to change their lives, others the world. But a truly transformative trip has the power to do both” (Travel and Leisure Magazine, 2009)

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