"Who me? Of course not, not in a million years! I've never been on a tour to see 12 countries in 3 1/2 days. Don't even own a loud Hawaiian shirt! Heck, I'm studying their language."
Well, despite being well-intentioned, you may end up "Culturally Maladjusted" and never know it because in Latin America, it is rude to point out people's faults to their faces. The problem lies in assuming that behavior and habits accepted in your country are acceptable in Latin America. We recently conducted a survey of our partner schools to find out how students might unknowingly offend their host families, teachers and others. Here are some tips to follow:
Waste Not Want Not:
Latin Americans are astounded at the wastefulness of some students: leaving the lights and TV's on, taking long showers, not eating all the food served and using "all that toilet paper". This is the real reason that in many places low wattage light-bulbs, cold showers, small helpings at meals and no toilet paper are the norm.
Telephone - A Precious & Expensive Commodity:
Normally, Latin Americans don't talk on the phone for long periods of time and you should keep this in mind when you use the phone at your homestay or the school. Your homestay is likely to be a bit paranoid about you using the phone because many families have been left with gigantic phone bills. School administration will also want you to keep it short, so that their lines are not tied up forever. Why not get additional lines? Because it can take up to several years and it can be very expensive.
Body odor is just as unpleasant to Latin Americans! Why do you think many homestays provide laundry service?
Keep Your Clothes & Shoes On:
In most Latin American countries it is offensive to be wandering around the homestay "half-naked" or without shoes. Bring a pair of flip-flops or slippers for wearing in the household if you don't feel comfortable in your regular shoes.
You Are The Student, Not The Teacher:
Don't try to teach the class, correct your classmates' mistakes or speak in your native language during class. Here is something to remember: "Why?" is not a valid question for explaining grammatical problems.
"How?" is a better question. In language there is usually not an answer to the former, since rules are made to rationalize usage.
Learn Local Politeness!
Lots of niceties and small talk are part of the culture and it's considered rude if you don't conform - you should greet a person (Buenas Tardes, etc.), even if you see them 20 times a day; say "con permiso" before leaving a room; and MOST IMPORTANT, if your homestay seņora says "my house is your house" she does not mean it is OK to raid the refrigerator or bring home overnight guests.
Be Prepared, Attentive and On Time!
Your teacher and other classmates are there to teach and learn, respectively. Do your homework assignments, review your notes, come to class on time and pay attention. Hangovers are never an acceptable excuse for not being prepared, arriving late or falling asleep in class.
Operate Doors Properly:
Sounds pretty simple but it never ceases to amaze Latin Americans how so many foreigners can only "slam" doors or just never close them.
Your Home Is Different:
Plain and simply, Latin America will be different from your home country. Don't expect it to be the same and don't compare it by telling Latin Americans "this is better in my country".