Locals Know Best

Dylan Atkison, Engineering a Craft Brewery Belgium Summer '22

Interacting with locals is the easiest way to learn how a new place functions, but is perhaps the most difficult fear to overcome. Being an “American” abroad often involves the preconceived notion that we are loud, stand out like a sore thumb in public, and are unable to integrate into the society we find ourselves in. While it is accurate that Americans are generally more opinionated, will share said opinions, and do so loudly, it is possible to blend into a crowd due to the shared language. This is one of the most notable things I found while abroad, as a first pass to a conversation was done in English in most cities. While French became the de facto language as we neared Brussels and the French border, most people were more than happy to hone their English while interacting with patrons to their establishments. Though I found myself being purposely quiet and not sharing my thoughts unless asked, I would often get asked about what I thought of the area and how it compared to home. This helped me to lose the shyness that I initially brought abroad with me, allowing me to more efficiently interact with locals while exploring a foreign landscape. By the end of my time abroad, I was no longer afraid to be that “loud American” because I knew that I was simply an “American” abroad and I was often no louder than any other tourists or people having conversations around me. Our interactions with tour guides often revolved around the differences between how brewing is handled in Belgium versus the United States. This provided playful banter and kept the conversation lively, budding friendships that will ultimately be explored in the future by Dr. Parker and Mr. Toplack. It was more difficult in some senses for the students to make friends due to how quickly we moved and how often we did so, though our tour guide was of similar age and became “one of us” by the end of our trip. Costanza, a local, provided us invaluable insights into what was and wasn't a good area of town, restaurant, or shop to pick up souvenirs. She acted not only as translator, tour guide, and local genius, but was more than happy to exchange cultural notes and discuss how differently and how odd things may be for us abroad, while also sharing her experiences with us as a local guiding students through her home country. The best thing anyone planning to study abroad can do is come to terms with the fact that not only is interacting with locals necessary, it is enjoyable and will forge a better experience abroad.