Rafa Barreto

Embarking on the journey to study abroad is both exciting and challenging. As someone who has traveled extensively, I understand the importance of being prepared for cultural differences. When I left Spain in search of my dream job as a pilot, I faced numerous obstacles. At that time, cultural intelligence and coaching were hardly talked about, so I had to learn the hard way. My journey took me to India, Romania, Ukraine, and finally Vietnam. Each destination came with its own set of positives and negatives, but I always tried to see the best in every situation. My friends often called me the most positive person they knew, and I think that’s because I focused on what I could learn from each experience.

Reflecting on my travels, I realized that, intuitively, I was following a process that I now know as the PLAN. This realization came later, and it’s what inspired me to share it with others. PLAN stands for Prepare, Learn, Adapt, and Network, and it is a powerful tool for developing cultural intelligence. Here’s how each step helped me navigate my journey abroad.

Before arriving in each new country, I gathered as much information as possible about my destination. I researched cultural norms, language basics, and academic expectations. This preparation helped me understand what to expect and eased my transition into a new environment. By knowing the dos and don’ts, I was able to avoid cultural faux pas and start off on the right foot.

Learning the local language and cultural etiquette was crucial. I picked up basic phrases and tried to communicate with locals in their language. This effort was always appreciated and made a huge difference in how I was received. Learning about cultural practices also helped me feel more connected to my new surroundings and less like an outsider.

One of the most important lessons I learned was the need to adapt. Each country had its own unique customs and ways of doing things. I had to be flexible and ready to change my habits to fit in. Whether it was adapting to the Indian way of bargaining, understanding Romanian hospitality, or adjusting to the Ukrainian work ethic, being adaptable made my experience more enjoyable and less stressful.

Building a network of friends and colleagues was essential. I connected with locals and other international students, which provided a support system and made my time abroad more enriching. These connections not only helped me professionally but also gave me a deeper understanding of the culture. Networking opened doors to new opportunities and made me feel more at home.

In conclusion, following the PLAN acronym—Prepare, Learn, Adapt, and Network—helped me navigate the complexities of living and working in different countries. By consciously applying these principles, you can develop your cultural intelligence and make the most of your study abroad experience. Remember, the key is to stay positive and open-minded, and you’ll find that each challenge is an opportunity for growth.

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