Ask the intern: How to live like a local

“Hi Fiona, I’m a few weeks into my international internship in London and I love the city. I’ve been to the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben – all of the touristy places. They were amazing and I’m so glad that I visited them all, but now I want to move away from the tourist spots. I want to see how the local people live, where they eat, drink, go out, etc. Do you have any tips on how to live like a local when you’re living abroad?” – Francesca

Hi Francesca, what a great question! I’ve always believed that fully immersing yourself and trying to live like a local is the best way to understand a new culture. Immersing yourself entirely in the life and soul of your new city will take your international internship experience to a whole new level.

1. Research

As with anything important, research is a great first step. So when thinking about trying to move out of the touristy areas, research is key. The idea of living like a local is something sought after by many travelers. So much so, a lot of them write blogs about it. These blogs can be a great tool to see what they thought of various areas, restaurants, bars, etc. Websites such as Pinterest are full of articles highlighting the best ‘off the beaten track’ sights to see. They can be a great tool. Why not grab a notebook and take some notes about the places that seem interesting to you? You could even run this past your Experience Coordinator who has a wealth of knowledge about the city.

2. Meet local people

The best possible way to live like a local, is to meet the locals. Although the Internet is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to what to do in a new city, nothing compares to local know-how. Locals will be able to tell you all of the things that the guide books miss. If there’s an amazing family-run restaurant just out of town, a cute little cinema or a great park, the locals will definitely know about it.

You may be sat there thinking, “OK, that all sounds fine and dandy but how do I go about meeting these illustrious locals?” Well, there are so many ways. The best advice I can give you is to be friendly and inquisitive. People love to talk about their local area and give advice. So why not strike up a conversation with someone who works in a local shop? Maybe the hairdresser who’s giving you a haircut? I can guarantee that they’ll love to help.

live like a local

3. Learn about local food and drink

One of my absolute favorite things to do when I’m abroad is to eat. Experiencing the food in a new city is a great way to get out and about with friends. Have a quick google of the restaurants around your accommodation and try them out. Remember that sometimes the best restaurants are the ones that look average from the outside. Even if it’s not the sort of place you’d normally go to, don’t be afraid to try it out.

Another great way to learn about local food and drink is to take a cooking class. Then, if there’s a food that you absolutely love, you can make it when you get home. You could even invite all of your friends or family to your house for a traditional British meal. If cooking’s not your thing, then what about chocolate making, cake decorating or even cocktail making? London is a huge and incredibly diverse city. The options for food and even new, exciting classes, are truly endless.

4. Join a local club or team

Think about what you do and how you spend your time back at home. Do you play sports or are you part of a theater group? All of these options, and more, will be available in your new city. Taking your hobbies from back home and continuing them in a new place is a fantastic way to not only have fun, but also to meet like-minded people with the same interests as you. These people will be able to tell you fun and exciting things to do around the city, and may become great friends and tour guides.

live like a local

5. To the tourist spots and beyond

The more that you look into where to visit in a certain place, the more that the word ‘touristy’ seems to come up as a negative thing. Although I do understand this idea, the need to move off of the beaten track and experience real life, these places are touristy for a reason. The Houses of Parliament are incredibly “touristy”, but at the same time, a must-see. So make sure that, as well as trying to live like a local, you make time for these incredible sights.

Having said this, make sure you go above and beyond. For example, let’s say that there’s a famous museum to visit. Why not, instead of just visiting, research a great exhibition or night time event that is happening there, and go to this instead? Visit the museum like the locals do, only going to things that truly interest you. This idea of going to events spans much more than just museums. Why not see what music, art, or sports events are happening and go along?

6. Learn the language and embrace cultural differences

I have rambled on in the past about how great learning languages is because I am a proud languages student myself. But I really cannot stress what an asset it is. Even if you only learn a few key words or phrases, they will take you a long way. A lot of the time people just appreciate the effort. If you can take the time to talk to people and ask questions in their own language, this may be the passport to some incredible experiences.

Along with learning or using the language comes embracing the cultural differences. The differences between your new city and your home only add to your experience. They will teach so much about the culture and people’s lives. Embracing these differences will only further help you to live like a local.

live like a local

7. Stay up to date

Staying up to date with what’s going on in the country will help you feel more involved in the life of your city. Make sure that you check the news for your area to see what’s been happening. This will make for a great conversation starter when, as we previously discussed, you’re out making local friends. You could even get a subscription to a paper or magazine for the time that you’re staying and then you will always have access to all of the recent news and events.

8. Wander around

The best way to truly get to know a new city, and feel like a local, is to wander around. I’m not saying get yourself completely lost and find yourself stranded in a dodgy area with nothing but a guide book to defend yourself with. But pick an area that you know is supposed to be really pretty and just wander around, grab a drink or a snack, and soak everything in. It’s called “wander”lust for a reason. Get lost and enjoy the city.

I love hearing from you so send any stories, questions or queries to me at fiona.johnson@theinterngroup.com

Now that you know how to live like a local, apply for an international internship and the adventure of a lifetime.

Photo 1. based on Cafe, by jonas01123, CC BY 2.0

Image 2. based on Hairdresser, by nuno luz, CC BY 2.0

Photo 3. based on Team Finnmark, by Finnmark fylkeskommune, CC BY -ND 2.0

Image 4. based on SANY0752, by kc7fys, CC BY -SA 2.0

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Fiona Johnson

Fiona studies Spanish and Italian and is currently on her year abroad in Latin America. She is working with the marketing team for The Intern Group in Santiago until January, when she hopes to travel South America before starting work in Italy. She is hoping to explore everything Chile has to offer and experience the vibrant culture, food and nightlife of Santiago.

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