Learning a language through an online classroom is the first step in beginning to understand and appreciate another culture. But in order to truly appreciate the lifestyle and traditions of another people, people must get up and go to that country and immerse themselves fully in the culture. Taking this big step can be scary for anyone, and often results in culture shock — a symptom many travelers have where they feel out of place and alone in a new culture but are still often excited by the new things they are learning and discovering. One of the best ways to begin to adapt to a local culture is to eat local in that country. Below are three reasons it benefits a person to eat local when they are traveling abroad.

1. Language immersion

Restaurants provide a great opportunity for the language student to practice their skills. They must first greet their waiter or waitress in the native language, and then utilize reading skills to look over the menu. It forces the student to not only read, but also speak, a language. It invites conversation as well. The student might consider asking the waiter to help him or her with difficult words, or perhaps teach them a new phrase that one might only learn through general conversation. Whether you’re chatting up sommeliers about the regional vintage or discussing restaurant supplies with the owner of the establishment, conversations over food are often the most illuminating conversations, not least because a relaxed atmosphere loosens the tongue.

2. Supporting the economy

It is a sign of respect and appreciation when a traveler goes out of his or her way in order to eat at local dining spots. This is a huge boost to the local economy. Everything from the food purchased from local farmers, butchers and other local businesses, to the supplies that are purchased from area residents, is impacted when travelers make an effort to eat at locally owned restaurants. Many restaurants in many other countries are working to be more eco-friendly by utilizing goods and services produced at the local level, so it is much appreciated when travelers help to boost the local economy as well.

3. Appreciation for culture

Ultimately, a traveler is going to find the dishes at local restaurants to be much more authentic than the ones they might find at a corporate chain restaurant that exists in many different countries (though there is something to be said for Japanese McDonald’s restaurants as they relate to other global locations). It gives an opportunity for the student to chat with local residents, while also getting the best of the local cuisine and culture. Perhaps the waiter or waitress will teach the student about traditions that they have in that part of the world, or tell them a bit of history about a new dish they are trying. This is one of the biggest benefits to dining local in a foreign country, and often completes the traveling experience.

Traveling to a foreign country can really make the language learning process come full circle, but that’s no secret. Flexing your linguistic muscle in an environment where you must put your acquired knowledge to use is one of the most rewarding feelings any polyglot can have. By immersing yourself in a local culture, and dining at local restaurants trying favorite dishes of the native people, you will quickly come to have a better understanding of the language, the local people and even yourself. The benefit is two-fold. Not only will you be bettering yourself as a student and a person overall, but you will be helping to boost a local economy and showing respect to a group of people that you have been learning about.

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img: Attribution Some rights reserved by Julien Menichini