10 Ways Going to a Third World Country Changes Your Life

When I traveled to Kenya two summers ago, I was not prepared for the ways in which it would affect my life. Many say that a trip like this will change you, and it turned out to be completely true.

1. You will experience culture shock

It’s real, it happens, and it can be pretty scary. It's extremely jolting the first time you see a child with exposed ribs and an inverted stomach or a man lying on the side of the road practically lifeless, using every last ounce of energy to beg for food. You may want to cry. You may want to be alone for a little while to reflect. You may experience a wave of emotionsno reaction is the wrong one.

2. You’ll probably have to "rough it"

I don’t mean rough it like you did that one time you went Disney Camping with your family. I mean actual roughing itno running water, no toilets, no electricity, no cell phone. For a girl who revels in long, steamy showers, this was a change for me. It was also strange peeing into what seemed to be a giant dark hole to nowhere. However, there was never any shortage of candles or flashlights and not having technology was definitely a nice mental break. I think we all need to rough it every once in a while. 

3. You’ll learn new customs

In many third world countries, in fact, many countries besides America, wearing a tank top and shorts is not appropriate. It's respectful for women to be covered, especially from the waist down. That summer, I wore a lot of baggy pants and long skirts. It felt like the Amish country rather than Africa. Also, some everyday practices are different. You do not begin eating until everyone has been seated and served and you do not leave the table with food. Ways you address people also vary by status and you have to be very careful to use the right greeting. “Hey” and “sup” definitely won’t fly with a Prime Minister or Dignitary.

4. You may have to change your eating habits

…Or risk being hungry the entire time. Food in other countries is weird, especially if you’re used to mass-produced, grease fried America. Personally, I eat relatively healthy, but it was still frightening seeing eyes in my fish. Watching your dinner get slaughtered and then cooked on your plate an hour later also isn’t out of the ordinary. In fact, in most cases it’s actually preferred because it signifies freshness. Even restaurants serve interesting dishes and what’s a delicacy here most likely won’t be overseas. I had the “opportunity” to try ostrich steak and ox testicles which strangely enough both tasted like chicken. 

5. You’ll learn a new language

Although you may not become fluent, you’ll at least pick up some of the native language of the place you are visiting. The wide-spoken language of Kenya is Swahili, which sadly, was extremely challenging to master. My overarching advice is to memorize the 6 basics; “yes,” “no,” “please,” “thank you,” “hello,” and “goodbye.” Knowing these things could help you get out of a dangerous situation or atleast with getting seconds during a meal.

6. You’ll season your math skills

Chances are, the country you are staying in will not function on the American dollar. Translating dollar amounts is hard work and until you have it figured out, you may accidentally overpay for things. However, in a lot of countries a dollar is worth more, which is an obvious plus. Doing quick multiplication in division in your head is something you’ll have to pick up fast unless you want to walk around with a calculator. However, there is a bright sidepracticing a little math everyday will prevent your summer brain from turning to mush.

7. You learn to bargain

With your newfound talent of switching money, what better activity to put it to the test than to shop until you drop? Most third world countries have districts consisting solely of street markets. Shopping at these markets is a beautiful thing in the sense that prices are rarely ever set in stone. In my experience, with the right attitude and perfect mix of respect and stubbornness, you can get a great item down to almost half of the listed price. If only you could bargain at retail stores…

8. You get creative

When you don’t have much, you’re forced to utilize common items in order to accomplish the things you need. Shoelaces become pertinent in tying up mosquito nets and curtains, and that rock you found on the ground is actually great for scrubbing the stain out of your shirt. Leaves can even be used as toilet paper (kidding, sort of). You learn new uses for items you never thought of before which is a beautiful, beneficial thing. 

9. You master the art of moderation

In many third world countries, resources are extremely limited so you have to consume in modicum. Suddenly, you don’t mind a two-minute shower and you become satisfied with smaller portions of food. America is a gluttonous country and when you learn that your life won’t end through living it moderately, you really see no reason to go back to the way it was before. 

10. It humbles you

Ah, yes, the age-old cliché that going to a third world country will change your life. However, it really, truly does. Your sense of appreciation is heightened, as you are thankful for even little things like paved roads and lighters. You witness destitute poverty and feel so lucky to have a warm bed and a roof over your head for when it rains. You value your opportunity to gain an education and what a privilege it is to have a car. Traveling to a third world country is an indescribable experience filled with triumph and tribulation and will leave a lasting impression on you as long as you live. The trip will undoubtedly change your life, but as this list has shown, there is no way it's not for the better.