When you are exploring a place that you have never been before, the culture shock can be massive. I have always been fascinated with the differences between countries that are so close together geographically, and how their history and cultural norms can be so diverse. Going halfway around the world from Texas to Hungary, the culture shock was big, to say the least.
I believe that everyone should immerse themselves in a new culture when traveling. The idea of an adventure of flying to a far off place so different from my home gets my adrenaline racing through my body. But now, as I spend time studying abroad in Budapest, I now know what it is like to be in a place that is completely different from my culture.
Learn the language
Don't go out a buy an entire Rosetta Stone to learn some of the native languages, but DO learn a few key phrases to get around the city. As Americans, we can be at a disadvantage when traveling overseas, as most of us only speak English (and the little bit of Spanish or French we learned in high school). In Europe, it is not uncommon for people to speak multiple languages, as the education system is very diverse in their languages.
Learning some phrases such as "good day," "how are you," and "thank you" can go a long way with people while also developing a sense of the culture. In Hungarian, "hello" is "szia" and "thank you" translates to "köszönöm." Let's just say that I still have some work to do on learning Hungarian, but it's a start.
Eat traditional food
Traditional Hungarian beef goulash soup and creme strudel
One of the biggest things you can do to take a deep dive into the life abroad is to eat the customary food of the city. While the flavors and ingredients may not be what you are accustomed to, it is an amazing way to live life like a local. Don't be afraid to try something rare and daring, because you never know when you are going to get an opportunity to try something like it again. Even though there may be a McDonald's around the corner from your hotel, it's better to eat at a small café, try a new food, and enjoy your surroundings.
In Budapest, there are a plethora of classic dishes to try from. From beef goulash, chimney cakes, and lángos, Hungarian food has my heart and my stomach forever.
While some may think it's nosy, I think it's fun. People watching is a simple way to see what a day in the life of a local consists of. Whether it be sipping an espresso while reading the paper, walking to the local market, or taking a midnight stroll from a local pub, watch what the locals do. And if you feel so inclined, do what they do, follow in their footsteps, and perhaps learn something new about your travel destination.
Learn about the history
Hungarian Parliament Building
You can't learn about the modern age of a city without learning about its past. One of the things I really appreciate about travel is how it can transport you back in time. Just looking at the seemingly insignificant details on a building holds so much history. There are stories to be told, and you have to be the avid listener to what the city is telling you.
Make use of public transportation
Tram No. 2 in Budapest is recognized as one of the most beautiful tram rides in Europe
What better way to see the city than in an air-conditioned train or bus? Certainly not walking. Using public transport is so much faster than walking around the city, and it helps getting oriented around the major sites your travel destination has to offer.
In Budapest, there are trams, metros, buses, and trollies that can take you through each little street in the capital of Hungary. My personal favorite has been the tram, as it can take me anywhere within a matter of minutes while offering the best views of the city.
Visit the touristy spots
It's okay to be a little touristy (but just a little). After all, you are one! Relish in the places that make a place known throughout the world. Find the big spots on Pinterest, make your list, and make sure you hit them all on your trip.
One of my favorite touristy places in Budapest has been the Parliament Building. Once it's lit up at night, I gasp at the beauty of the city around me and I appreciate the opportunity I have to study abroad.
Shop like a local
Great Market Hall
Shopping is such a big part of traveling. From the food you buy during the day to the souvenirs you purchase to take home, shopping plays a big part of your experience. But if you know where to look, you can find the best quality products for the best prices.
The Great Market Hall in Budapest is a three-story shopping bazaar. The ground floor sells everything from meats, spices, vegetables, and fruits. Locals come in every day to shop for groceries like we would from Walmart or Kroger. Each stall is a different vendor selling products at amazing prices.
In the basement, the smell of fish is the first thing to hit your nose. This is where fisherman come to sell their catch of the day to vendors for the public. Also on this floor is an Aldi, a grocery store selling products more commonly find in your local shop back home.
On the second floor (my favorite floor), people have food stalls selling traditional Hungarian dishes such as beef goulash. The aroma of home-style cooking drives your feet to their business. You can find so many varieties of food that you could eat here for the entirety of your trip, no matter how long on your stay. Additionally, you can other businesses selling souvenirs such as embroidered cloths, keychains, shirts, and so many other fun things to remember your trip by.
Stay in an Airbnb or rent an apartment
Apartment living in Budapest
Sure you can stay in an expensive hotel room close to the big sites, but why not book an Airbnb or rent an apartment to immerse yourself in a new culture? Booking a stay in someone's apartment can help you understand the differences in lifestyle from your travel destination compared to your own. You can cook in your own kitchen, kick back with some local news after a long day of sightseeing, and enjoy your adventurous life in the comfort of a home-y apartment.
Listen to live music
String quartet at the Hungarian Parliament Building
Music is a universal language. We all understand it, even if you think you don't. Listening to any live music is such an amazing experience, and engaging with music in a foreign country is even better.
Street musicians are a common sight in Budapest, and their talent often enhances my experience by providing that beautiful background music to gorgeous sights. Give them a listen, throw a forint into their instrument case, and get lost in the notes.
Travel isn't traveling unless you immerse yourself in the culture. Be conscious of the differences in your culture and the culture present in the place you visit. You can often learn something new while having the best time of your life...
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