Many believe that cultural learning begins when you step foot into the country of destination. You see new sights, meet new people, and hear different sounds. But don’t overlook the transportation that got you to your destination because that is really where cultural learning begins.
I am talking specifically about flights because there is so much that can be learnt while spending hours on the aircraft. Everything from the newspaper offered, flight attendants, and food to the people sitting next to you are opportunities for you to learn more about the country you are going to.
For example, the first time I went to South Korea was also the first time I took a non-North American airline. This Korean airline functioned a little differently than the flights around Canada that I was used to. The flight attendants were all well-dressed and the uniforms themselves were more stylish than ones I had seen on Canadian flights. This shows a glimpse that Korean culture values fashion and appearance.
The food was the next thing that was different. Instead of the usual pasta or chicken meal, this airline served a Korean dish called bibimbap. There was steamed rice with an assortment of julienned vegetables and mushrooms on the side.
At first I had no idea how to eat this because I had not encountered it before. Then I peered over at the Korean passengers next to me and they were squeezing large amounts of spice sauce into the rice then mixing all the ingredients together. I did the same, but with less spice and had my first taste of Korean food. Although it was plane food, it was delicious to me!
Lastly, do not be afraid to ask the flight crew or local passengers next to you to teach you a few words in their language. They will want to help you learn more about their culture and in return you can teach them something about yours.
You can taste the local food, browse the local paper and learn local slang all before arriving at your destination whether you are on an hour or 10-hour flight. This can also ease you into the new culture and dampen the culture shock. So seize the opportunity—I surely will be on my flight to Taiwan for my upcoming travel adventures. I cannot wait to ask the locals where to find the best eats in Taiwan!