Lessons from Abroad

MDP students have been on placements abroad for a few months now, and some of us are even wrapping things up and heading home soon. Many of us, including myself, have written about our experiences and mentioned that it was difficult to adjust in our new cities, or that we found ourselves in a steep learning curve. Inspired by a recent post on Ghana written by Stephen, MDPers have compiled a few “lifestyle lessons” they’ve learned about their respective host cities.

I think that one of the best parts and greatest benefits of travelling is the opportunity to learn about and experience different cultures and lifestyles. Often, we get so accustomed to our own lifestyles/beliefs/norms, that we find ourselves living in a little bubble; forgetting that there is literally an entire world of people out there who live very differently than we do. Travelling and living abroad helps us realize that our way is not necessarily the right way, and definitely not the only way of doing things. It allows us to realize that ethnocentrism, or the judgment of other cultures according to preconceptions we form based upon our own culture, is actually quite harmful and prevents us from appreciating the diversity of our world. It’s been very fascinating learning about life in these various cities and comparing it to our lifestyles in Waterloo; maybe these lessons will be helpful if you’re planning a trip to any of the cities below too!

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From Akom II, Cameroon, Kaylia shares:

  1. Food has some unusual names here: ‘plums’ must be cooked before eating and taste like sour avocados, ‘cherries’ are the size of plums and taste like them too, and ‘cheese’ can refer to the dairy product or a wild sticky fruit that looks like a green apple.
  2. Since Monday, I have at least five new self-proclaimed husbands in Cameroon.
  3. It’s never too early for beer and it’s an acceptable option for breakfast.
  4. Mambo chocolate is the best chocolate and should be exported worldwide.
  5. Termites don’t taste too bad (but snake is a bit much for my taste).

From Amman, Jordan, Zoya recounts:

  1. Never drive here, no matter how much of an expert you think you are. It’s like playing Crazy Taxi. The traffic WILL beat you and there’s no such thing as traffic lights and traffic laws. Uber for the win!
  2. Never expect Jordanians to arrive at the time they told you. They are always “fashionably late.”
  3. Don’t expect to have running water all the time, Jordan is in the middle of the desert. Also, expect green water to show up in your tap from time to time. Then, call the “haris” or security guard of your building to go to the roof and try to fix this problem for you EVERY time.
  4. Jordanians are the nicest people ever. They are always willing to help you. And if you tell them you are from Canada, they always want to go back to Canada with you or ask you about how to migrate there.

From Berekuso, Ghana, Stephen & Tom,
from Kumasi, Ghana, Laura,
& from Tamale, Ghana, Stephanie, comment:

  1. The three most important parts of a car are: breaks, horns, and headlights. Everything else is superfluous.
  2. Atrotro (the local equivalent of a public transit bus) can always carry more passengers (or goats, cats and chickens), no matter what weight restrictions may say.
  3. For footwear, all you really need is a pair of sandals.
  4. Ice cream sold in 500ml bag form (i.e. Fanyogo, Fanice, Fanchoco) is amazing and should be brought to Canada.
  5. Handholding is not always for romantic relationships only.
  6. The most effective way to decline giving your number to strange men is to say “No, because I don’t want you to call me”.

From Hanoi, Vietnam, Mary observes:

  1. Playing frogger as a child was the best way to prepare for crossing streets.
  2. This country was made for those incapable of cooking, as it’s cheaper to eat out.
  3. If water drips on on you from above, don’t look up, don’t look for the source, just go home and shower in hand sanitizer.
  4. Thit cho is a swear word among expats – never to be said or discussed.
  5. There is literally no limit for how much Bun Cha (a grilled pork and noodle dish) you can eat – if you stop, you will regret it.

From Istanbul, Turkey, Rija discovers:

  1. A pedestrian never has the right of way, even when the crossing light is green.
  2. The right way to drink tea is black, no milk, & at the end of every meal.
  3. What ever you’re buying at the Grand Bazaar can be purchased far cheaper elsewhere.
  4. Despite what you may have thought, baklava originates in the Ottoman Empire and therefore is rightfully claimed by Turks, not Greeks or Arabs.
  5. Two things that can never be fully trusted: the weather forecast and taxi drivers.

From Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Vidya says:

  1. KL has the best food, but prepare for a carb overload.
  2. There is no need to go to a monastery or ashram in search of developing patience; rather, just spend 10 minutes on any highway.
  3. One does not need to know how to speak Malay to get around, so long as the words kan (to signal agreement), boleh (meaning “can”) and nasi (meaning “rice”) are in your vocabulary, you’re set!

From Nairobi, Kenya, Kadra notes:

  1. Kenyans speak English but are very enthusiastic about teaching kiswahili, sindiyo?      
  2. Traffic signals are merely suggestions.
  3. Kenyan tea is a national treasure.
  4. In Nairobi, July is the coldest month; it rivals October weather in Toronto.

From Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Ana remarks:

  1. Successfully traversing an intersection means you just won an elaborate game of chicken.
  2. Frisbee sized steaks are moderate – “they eat way more in Cochabamba.”
  3. Salteñas – the most delicious meaty soup in a pastry you’ll ever have for breakfast – made to satisfy your hunger, and causes you to arrive at work each day with freshly soiled clothing.
  4. Doggy bags are just that: a bag of leftovers that you use to distract stray dogs as you pass them.
  5. The city is like a big department store; to get a particular product or service, you have to go to the section of the city where all of the corresponding vendors exist and compete.

From Timisoara, Romania, Jason D. notices:

  1. Shorts are for Americans.  One is expected to wear pants in + 30 celsius.  
  2. Dinner is at 10pm.  If you go to a restaurant at 6pm, you will be eating alone.
  3. Public making out is a regular, daily occurrence.
  4. Rather than expensive surveillance and alarm systems, guard dogs are much more effective and economical – and you get a pet out of it.   
  5. Who needs an alarm clock when you have roosters waking you up at 5am?
  6. If you’re over sixty years old, man or woman, you work, and you work hard. Retirement is for the dead.

From Vancouver, Canada, Harley comments:

  1. Yoga pants are a fashion staple for girls in Vancouver.
  2. An umbrella too, is a staple.
  3. The feeling of waking up to snow-covered mountains is unbeatable.
  4. The city is home to Canada’s worst drivers.
  5. Here, it’s pronounced “Vangcouver,” not “Vancouver.”

From Waterloo, Canada, George & Jason Z. write:

  1. Beware of an expanding geese workforce during summertime; getting ready to dominate the campus by the time winter comes.
  2. You may have to take alternate routes around campus, since it’s nesting season and certain paths could be blocked off by geese.
  3. There are hints of Winter even in the Summer; the temperature indoors on campus is much colder than what it is outdoors.



Rija Rasul is a student in Cohort 4 of the Master of Development Practice program. Rija’s background is in political theory and international relations. Her research interests include climate change and sustainable energy, and international security and terrorism.


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