What is a Cultural Orientation & Why it’s Important

So you’ll notice that with many of our Teach English Abroad programs, a cultural orientation is included – these can last up to a week and it’s something that sets comprehensive programs like ours apart from a basic job placement service.

Our Thailand orientation includes Muay Thai lessons suitable for all fitness levels, because when you’re abroad why let your health fall by the wayside? Exercise like a local!

Okay, “but what’s the big deal?” you may ask. “Can’t I just go online, find a job and get placed in a country and just figure it out once I’m there?” And the frank answer to that is, yes, you can. But, there’s a whole host of other benefits to choosing a comprehensive program with an orientation built in, let’s take a look at a few of them to help you decide:

Cultural sensitivity

Learning to cook like a local with what’s around you can save you a bunch of cash and score you points with your coworkers!

Westerners have a long history of barging into other countries, oblivious to cultural sensitivities or different ways of doing things. Being able to identify how to behave appropriately can go a long way to getting much needed help from your local colleagues or neighbours when you get into tricky situations abroad – and as with life anywhere in the world, there will be difficult days.

For example, for English teachers in Vietnam, learning the proper gender and age-appropriate title to address someone with can spell the difference between getting those much needed directions and being turned away with an unhelpful *hmph* for being a rude and ignorant foreigner. In Thailand learning not to touch your students on the head (where local customs says the soul resides) will save you a few horrified shrieks from the kids and your coworkers alike. In South Korea, anecdotally, you might want to avoid mentioning that you slept with a fan on in your bedroom – it’s a nation-wide superstition that falling asleep like this will cause certain death!

With the cultural orientation weeks we have for teaching English in Thailand, Vietnam and for in-country TESOL courses in South Korea, you’ll get plenty of insight into local religion, culture, superstitions and general day-to-day way of life from greetings to introductory language lessons, history lectures and more.

At the end of the day, if you’re traveling abroad to work, you’re most likely doing it because you want not only to teach but also to learn.

Interested in Teaching English abroad? We’ll send you more info!



Staying out of trouble

In Thailand, we’ll ensure you get to visit a local monastery where you’ll get to meet a monk and learn more about the ins and outs of Buddhism in this beautiful country.

It’s often easy to forget that other countries don’t enjoy the same level of freedoms we take for granted back home. Whether that be simple cultural taboos which are normal for us, or worse, stuff that is plain illegal in your new home that is commonplace where you’re from – knowing before hand can save you a lot of trouble.

In South Korea, for example, that cute little butterfly wrist or neck tattoo can take on a whole knew meaning where tattoos are regularly seen as something worn by those in the underworld. So returning to teach in Korea from some vacation time in Thailand with a new visible tattoo could spell trouble with your employer.

Then in places like Thailand it is against the law to speak ill of the monarchy, punishable sometimes by many years in prison. We’re used to being able to say what we like about our president or queen with no consequence, making it easy to forget this isn’t a universal right.

Our orientations have informative lessons delivered by experts covering plenty of topics including local laws and customs to keep you out of trouble and making the most of your travels.

Valuable life-skills

Vietnamese can be a tricky language to learn with 6 vowel tones to master. Cultural orientations include language lessons to help you get understood by the locals.

If you’ve ever traveled abroad, even to another English-speaking place, you’ll notice that regular day-to-day things can get done very differently between two countries. Paying for a meal at a farmers market in South Africa can usually be done with an app on your phone, whereas trying the same thing in the UK may be met with blank stares where it’s a cash only affair. Best you find a ‘hole-in-the-wall’ (ATM) quickly or it’s going to be a hungry day ahead.

It’s in these sorts of situations that a lot of stress can be avoided through a cultural orientation. How do you use the metro and top up your travel card in Seoul? We’ll show you how. How do you flag down a Songthaew in Thailand and pick the right one for where you’re going? We’ve got you covered. How do you order a vegetarian or vegan meal in Vietnam where food almost always has some pork or chicken thrown in? We’ve got just the phrase to use.

Our orientations will take you to markets to teach you how to shop like a local, we’ll show you how to use public transport and how to order just what you want from someone who can’t speak English.

Saving money

Public transport in developing countries can be confusing, not least of all are Thailand’s Songthaews, open-backed pick-up trucks with two rows of seats facing each other. They are often color-coded per route and way cheaper to use than a taxi!

A really common practice for people traveling abroad for work is to head to the local tourist area and stuff their faces with Burger King or KFC. Even the most clean living among us do it. Why? Well, it’s familiar. We’d prefer a cheap, healthy local meal but have no idea what’s good or safe or how to order it. So, we end up forking out double or triple on fast food compared to what a local pays for something healthy.

Our orientations take you through local markets, explaining to you what all the weird and wonderful looking foods are. If you’re looking to avoid that Cambodian soup made of offal which is popular in Saigon, we can point it out. If you were too afraid to try those crazy looking meats on a stick you see from street-side food vendors in Bangkok for fear of what is in them, we’ll explain just what each thing is. I remember discovering a noodle vendor on an orientation in Thailand who sold bowls of hearty deliciousness for just $0.65, compare that to the almost $4 for a Big Mac (without the sides).

Similarly foreigners typically make a b-line for those sim-card stands at the airport, spending unnecessarily huge amounts on temporary cards from these unofficial 3rd party vendors. Our orientations usually include a local sim card with a reputable network, valid for however long you’re wanting to stay in the country along with simple instructions in English on how to top up credit or check balances.

Worry only about the important stuff

You’re going to be wanting to do big things while you teach abroad, don’t let the little things stop you from making the experience great!

At the end of the day, you’ve got a lot to keep you busy when you move overseas to teach or volunteer. You’re going to be focussed on your students, making friends, keeping in touch with loved ones back home and plotting incredible adventures while abroad.

Don’t make the small stuff the stressful stuff.

Interested in Teaching English abroad? We’ll send you more info!



About Nick Paul

Nick is the Marketing Manager for Travelbud and has had a long history in the travel industry working in student travel and even a big multinational online travel agency.

He regularly presents at travel conferences and has spent a great deal of time traveling the world from the US to Europe, Africa and most recently South East Asia.

Nick is super passionate about travel and his best travel memories include his recent trip to Vietnam, Thailand and South Korea to meet face-to-face with some of TravelBud’s teachers.

Read more about him and other TravelBud authors.

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