1. Take notes
This applies to both inside and outside the office. It’s a good idea to carry around a small notebook and write down questions and observations about work and culture immediately when they come up. Then you’ll have a reference to go back to when you’re with a boss or local friend or on your computer so you can investigate further.
2. Learn the slang
Taking the time to learn a bit of local slang at the beginning of your internship abroad is an excellent investment. Even though you make speak Spanish, Mandarin or English, you may not know how the locals actually speak with one another. Study up and put the slang into use as much as you can. It will make casual conversations easier to understand and give you some insight and access into the local culture.
3. Get a local phone number
While interning or living abroad it’s important to have a local phone number in case you need to call your boss or office, or if they need to call you. If you don’t want to pay to get your smart phone unlocked and use a local SIM card, you can buy an inexpensive prepaid phone and use that for making calls and sending texts.
4. Make friends at your internship
Not only does making friends make the work place a more pleasant environment, but making friends with colleagues abroad is a great way to establish an international network of colleagues. You never know where any of your coworkers or fellow interns will end up. So try to attend as many office social events as possible, even if it’s nerve-wracking.
There are a plethora of apps out there for smart phones that will make your life abroad much easier. City maps, itinerary coordinators and restaurant finders are all tools you can download for free for your phone.
6. Avoid touristy areas
Not only are touristy areas more expensive, but they are also crawling with tons of people just like you who are also not locals. Hanging out in touristy areas will not give you an authentic taste of local culture. If you’re going to eat at McDonalds and get coffee at Starbucks everyday, you might as well have stayed home and saved yourself the plane ticket.
7. Assemble a bucket list
Spend your first week abroad making a list of all the museums, monuments, parks, plazas, restaurants, shops and bars in the city that you want to visit. Then before every weekend you can refer to the list when you’re trying to decide what to do. You’ll probably add more places to the list during your stay, after getting recommendations from locals. Still, by keeping all the places on one list you’ll be more likely to see everything you wanted to see before returning home.
8. Date and befriend locals
There’s no better way to get to know a new city and culture than by making personal connections with locals. Whether romantic or friendly, these connections will help you see the culture from the inside. Just remember to be gracious to those who are kind enough to show you around. They aren’t required to show or teach you anything.