Thanks for your interesting question. You’re right: It’s not possible to learn everything about a country from a guide book. And it’s not possible to fully prepare yourself for all the unexpected experiences you’ll have abroad. But your advisor is right: preparation is a key part of a successful go abroad experience.
From planning your finances to finding out everything you can about the local language and culture of your host country – you will not regret putting in the time to research and learn what you can. Even if your plans and perspectives change in the first days of your journey, you should still invest time and effort into preparing yourself beforehand. (And don’t forget that understanding your own culture and potential biases is also a component of preparing yourself for an international experience.)
From our perspective, the ideal combination for a globetrotter is a mix of preparation, ambition and adaptability. Being prepared and informed before traveling doesn’t close you off from having new or unexpected experiences. In fact, by being better informed and more aware of the social and working cultures of your host country, you may be open the doors to opportunities you would not otherwise have had.
MyWorldAbroad has plenty of information that might inspire you to learn before you leave. Check out the following articles (for registered users), and search through the sections in our guide that are associated with the type of experience you will have abroad (e.g. intern, work or volunteer):
- Before You Leave: Researching Your Host Country
- Understanding Culture Shock
- Understanding The North American Identity
- What Expats Say: Preparation and Culture Shock
Good luck on your journey.
I heard that there’s no way to learn about a country from a guide book. And I also heard that it is more exciting and more cross-culturally "useful" to arrive without a plan. My advisor is telling me I need to spend time preparing for my trip. But do I really need to?
-Carl, 21, Ottawa, ON