1. Take a ball of string
How many uses has a piece of string? Whether it’s holding up mossie-nets, creating impromptu washing lines or stringing up any food you want to keep ant-proof. Embarking on a trip to a developing country means being prepared to improvise – and a ball of string is an absolutely essential survival tool!
2. Take a journal
New experiences, new people, new things to write home about – make sure you note them down! You’ll be busy but you’ll appreciate having something to look back on when you return. Write honestly. It’s tempting to just write about the fun stuff, if you also write about the challenges you’ve faced you’ll find that you’ll learn a whole lot more. It’s awesome to look back on a diary that not only reflects on the things you found hard, but also how you overcame them. You’ll appreciate it when you get back home!
3. Put your watch away
Developing countries tend to have a more, er, relaxed approach to time-keeping. As one African lady told Tearfund creative team member, Steve Adams, ‘you have the watches, but we have the time.’ Don’t expect things to start or finish when you expect them to. Use the time you wait for exciting stuff like chatting to new people, learning the language or just to take it all in.
4. A smile means the same thing in every country
It’s unlikely you’ll have a translator on hand to speak to everyone you meet, but If you want to let people know that you appreciate their culture and that you’re glad to meet them; show it on your face. Regardless of any language barriers, this is the best way for you to make friends. Smiling makes people feel at ease, and will make them more open to sharing the things they find exciting with you. Your smile is your secret weapon to help you get as much out of the experience as you can. That said…
5. A little local dialect goes a long way
Being able to say even a few words in the local dialect shows you’re willing to really make the effort to understand the people around you better. You’ll probably find they’re so enthusiastic about teaching you, it will be difficult to avoid. Embrace it!
6. Find some alternatives to I-Spy.
Even the shortest journey can take some time on bad roads. Be prepared to learn some card games, If you’re travelling with a team, they will provide most of your entertainment. Learn some games and take ideas with you to pass the time and do some team bonding. If you’re on your own, go prepared with a project you’ve always wanted to do but have never found the time at home (you could learn a the local language, for example, or how to do a Rubik’s cube).
7. Expect the unexpected, and stay open minded
Be flexible, and prepared for projects to need adjustment. Sometimes you might find that actually what you’ve planned isn’t necessarily what the community needs or responds well to – don’t worry, just adapt! However, developing countries are full of exciting surprises and unusual learning experiences you might have never thought of. Prepare to be surprised by cultural differences… and don’t be surprised when people you meet find something you do, which you thought was completely normal, extremely strange!
8. Take time out for God
Being out of your comfort zone is an amazing opportunity to learn more about yourself and your faith. Take time out to pray and talk to God. If you can, go and check out some of the local churches in the area you’re staying – travelling in very different countries will give you the chance to see how other cultures worship. Often there’ll be a lot of dancing and singing – throw off your embarrassment, and pitch in!
9. Show people where you come from
Pack some printed photos of your friends and family from home – people love to see photos from abroad and will appreciate knowing more about your life. Avoid pictures that show a lot of disposable wealth or material possessions as this could give the wrong impression, but take photos of things like your hometown, your school, your grandma and your pets.
10. Practice squatting
Most developing countries will use a ‘latrine’ to, er, empty themselves. While guys may be more familiar with outside venues, lasses, you might benefit from getting your muscles ready for some slightly different urinating actions…