Tuscany village overlooking trees.
France, Spain, America, China, and Italy are the five most popular countries tourists visit, according to the World Population Review. Cindi Lewis, Bryant’s executive director of global education, shares how travelers can grow cultural competence and enrich their experiences while exploring new places.
From tourist to traveler: Use these 5 tips to enrich your vacation abroad
Jun 08, 2023, by Emma Bartlett
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Cindi Lewis, Bryant’s executive director of global education, is the type of traveler who prefers to go off the beaten path. Her trips abroad include visits to one or two tourist attractions, but most of her time is spent roaming lesser-known sites and sipping coffee at local cafes — all while making observations of the new culture she’s immersed in. As someone who’s worked in international education for 22 years, Lewis understands the importance of cultural competence when traveling abroad and educates students on this topic before they embark on international experiences. 

“To me, cultural competence is the ability to shift away from your own culture when you’re in a new one and understand that other people have different ways of doing things,” says Lewis, noting that differences should be honored and respected.

According to the World Population Review, France, Spain, America, China, and Italy are the five most popular countries tourists visit. With summer fast approaching and families booking flights, Lewis shares how people can grow cultural competence and enrich their experiences while exploring new places. 


How do I develop cultural competence? 

According to Lewis, the easiest way to develop cultural competence is to research the dos and don’ts of a country, which gives travelers a better understanding of the culture.  

“But the most helpful thing will be observing the culture when you’re there,” she says.  

Lewis gives the following example: Say you’re at a cafe and you’re annoyed that you haven’t received the check. Instead of sitting there frustrated, watch the people around you and observe what they are doing to get the check. Afterward, consider why the culture does it that way. 


How much of another language should I know? 

“You don’t have to be fluent in any language, but you have to appreciate and respect that other people have different languages,” Lewis says. 

She recommends learning several basic words in the language of the country one is visiting. Her go-to phrases are hello, please, thank you, goodbye, and sorry I don’t speak ‘x.’ Lewis will also Google “top 10 phrases to know in ‘x’ country” and keep a list of those sayings with her. For individuals who find themselves in less touristy areas, Google Translate can be an effective tool to communicate with locals. 

“Say what you want into Google Translate, and it will translate into whatever language. It’s close enough, so the average native speaker will understand what you're asking for,” Lewis says, adding that those who want more practice with a language should check out Mango or Duolingo.  


What customs or etiquette might I not be aware of? 

There is no “one size fits all” custom or form of etiquette for individuals to adhere to when touring another country, according to Lewis; although she notes that one general European custom that is different from America is customer service.  

“The idea that someone coming to your table multiple times to check on you doesn’t happen,” Lewis says. “If something is wrong or you want something else, then it’s up to you to get the employee’s attention, which can be a slight little head nod or hand gesture.” 

Lewis adds that Americans can be very loud; therefore, people should gauge the volume of a restaurant or store and keep the conversation at an acceptable level. Overall, it is up to the traveler to research customs and etiquette for specific places before heading on a trip.  


How do I immerse myself in a new culture? 
“If you really want to immerse yourself in a cultural experience, you’ve got to get away from the tourist hotspots,” Lewis says.  

While the Colosseum and the Great Wall of China should still be priorities when visiting Italy and China, there is also a lot of value in going to a local restaurant or cafe. Lewis suggests finding smaller museums, lesser-known sites, and playing into your own interests.  

“If you like jazz music, find those bars with live jazz in the basement at night that aren't really advertising. If you like coffee, look at what the top 10 recommended local coffee houses are,” Lewis says, adding how avid movie goers and bookworms may choose to visit places mentioned in creative works. 


How can learning about other cultures impact my life? 

Through travel, people will witness different styles of life, which Lewis hopes will cause individuals to reflect and see what they might adapt to their lives. She explains that travel helps individuals lead a richer life, keep an open mind, and push people out of their comfort zone to try new things.  

“Experiences stay with you and prompt you to do a little bit more next time — maybe that’s going to another part of the world that you never thought you’d go to or engaging in local cuisine,” Lewis says. “Be in the moment and embrace it. If you are open to letting travel transform your life, then it’s something you can't get enough of.” 


Basic words and phrases to know when visiting France, Spain, China, and Italy: 

Bonjour / Hello 
Au revoir / Bye 
Merci / Thank you 
Très bien / Very good 
Je m’appelle / My name is 
Hola / Hello 
Adiós / Bye 
Gracias / Thank you 
Muy bueno(a) / Very good 
Mi nombre es / My name is 
你好 Nihao / Hello 
再见 Zai jian / Bye 
谢谢 Xiexie / Thank you 
很好 Henhao / Very good 
我叫 Wo jiao / My name is 
Ciao / Hello 
Arrivederci / Bye 
Grazie / Thank you
Molto bene / Very good 
Mi chiamo / My name is

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