Have you ever been the only foreign person in a room of hundreds of locals? I have, many times. In the places I have chosen to travel, it’s easy to spot other foreigners or expats—and there have been times where I have not seen one for days or gone to a big event and noticed that everyone else was a local.
I like being trying to blend in and be one of the locals, even though this is not always possible. Some of my favourite memories from traveling and living abroad involve when someone invited me to their friends’ fashion show or birthday party. It’s these moments that make a trip special.
Many times you see volunteers travel from all over the world, visit foreign countries and never really find that local connection. They either become too comfortable with the people they are living with or the other people from the same volunteer organization.
Those connections are important and I have relied on them times before, but since I am volunteering and traveling alone on my current trip, my connection with local friends has become an important one. In my current city of Tanga, other volunteers and tourists are not as concentrated as other places in Tanzania like Arusha or Dar Es Salaam. You see a mzungu (the Swahili word for foreigner) every so often, but I have had to rely on my making my own friends. This can be tricky in its own right as most people you will meet are genuine, but there are times people will try to abuse your friendship to try to get money or elevate themselves.
In my experience, I find the local people that I connect most to are those you do not follow you on the street asking if you can help them come to Canada, but are instead those who would never want to leave. They love their country and see the potential in it—just like I do.
So, the last couple of times I have traveled, I have left my guidebooks at home and asked some local friends for some recommendations. I ended up staying in some interesting places and enjoyed when my friends commented that the people at the next table where talking about how comfortable I seemed there. When I traveled to a one of the beach areas, I did run into some tourists at my hotel but they seemed to stay close to the resort, whereas a friend from work called his friend from the beach town to show me around. I ended up having a great experience dancing at a local club and even trying my hand at some gambling.
When you hang with the locals, your trip is a more authentic and I feel got to experience a flavour not seen by many visitors.