An opportunity to retreat to a sunny, warm place that is much happier than the last few cold months is here in the form of spring break.
Whether you’re planning to galavant overseas or soak up some sun down South or out West, the “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” mindset can creep in as you attempt to fully get away from your day-to-day concerns.
But to be a “visitor of integrity,” psychologist and behavior specialist Dr. Mary Alvord says the Vegas mindset is the one thing you should leave at home.
“When you prepare to go to a different city, state or foreign country,” she says, “it is crucial to look at the cultural and behavioral norms, and expectations. This makes for respecting the place and people you’re visiting.”
Alvord, who also is an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, says this “in the moment” thinking can be caused by mindlessness, coming from an individualized culture, and abusing substances that reduce impulse control.
“When a group gets together, a group norm can be set up. People can start doing what they think is a silly thing, but because they are unaware of the culture, it turns into an offensive, harmful thing.”
Westerners who recently visited Cambodia know this all too well.
In late January, Cambodian National Police arrested a group of foreigners for "singing and dancing pornographically," near the country's notable Angkor Wat temple complex.
Ninety travelers were detained, and all but three have been released. This small group could face up to 12 months in Cambodian prison.
To avoid spending a year in a foreign prison because of bad behavior on vacation, Alvord says to “learn about and respect other cultures.” She offers the following tips:
Be culturally competent. “You need to be aware and respectful of the cultures and customs of the people you’re around; don’t make assumptions. Learn what attire is appropriate for the street, the evenings or sacred sights. Consider body language, too, like personal space, handshakes, hugs, kissing and eye contact.”
Get familiar with the language. “Know the basics, like ‘hello,’ ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you.’ Yes, English may be considered the ‘international language,’ but if you go to some countries outside the major cities, they do not speak English, so you need to make an attempt.”
Understand police behavior. “Find out the protocols regarding police and what getting help is like. Know when and how to seek help, when to not seek help, and who you should seek help from.”
Beware of social media. “Fifty years ago, if you misbehaved badly, it would just be a local thing, and maybe your family would be the only ones who knew. But now, it’s instantaneously shared by millions all over the world. Not only that, it’s there forever. Nothing is really private; you can go viral in a second.”
Study the area. “Know which places are safe to walk around late at night.”