The aspect that made my time in Bangladesh particularly memorable was the warmth, friendliness, and hospitality of the locals. As tourism is still quite new in the country, the locals aren’t accustomed to seeing foreigners in their neighborhoods, markets, or local restaurants. This means they’re particularly attentive and eager to help even when language is a barrier. They’re also pleased that you’ve chosen to explore their country and want to ensure that you have a positive experience.
Whether it was the stranger in Dhaka who walked half a mile in the opposite direction to find a rickshaw for a fellow intern and me late one evening, the friendly restaurant owner who refused to let us pay, the kind villagers who wouldn’t take no for an answer when we’d say we didn’t want any more tea, or the family that surprised me with an elaborate meal when I was just visiting to drop off a parcel for a friend, I had the chance to glimpse into the heart of Bangladesh: its incredibly warm and generous people.
This experience taught me that living and working in a foreign culture isn’t easy. Social and business etiquette differs, you may have to change the way you act and dress to fit in, and you may miss the simple creature comforts of home, like a good cappuccino, Netflix, 24-hour supermarkets or the luxury of a beach day.
Your opinions may stick out like a sore thumb in another society and you have to be careful not to tread the fine line between expressing your views and offending a local. One time, a local male colleague made a casual comment about how decent women must dress and how modernization is no excuse for them to wear what they please, influenced by television and movies. It took all of my patience and understanding that he was influenced by his own Muslim upbringing in a small conservative town in Bangladesh not to debate with him, something I'd normally do back home. He had never traveled abroad or had any kind of exposure to Western culture and values. While I was entitled to my own opinion, the complete opposite of his, arguing with him publicly would bear no fruit.
But in my experience, there’s plenty to make up for the culture shocks: the unpredictability of each day, immersing yourself in a new environment, finding what drives people around the world, experiencing new festivals, sampling new cuisine, and forging friendships that can sustain the effects of time and distance.