Food itself, the making of it, and eating it, are really personal and representative of a person’s culture. Lean into that and try new things; it will yield great experiences and connect you to your abroad location even more. Although different food may be one of the best parts of traveling, it tends to be intimidating in looks, the ordering process, and more in a foreign country. Here’s a few ways to get past the first obstacles to getting a mind-blowing meal abroad.

Language Barriers

Trying new foods can be tough at times, especially when you can’t read the menu. People are more forgiving of language barriers than you think, as long as you’re kind and polite. The important things to remember are:

  1. Lots of menus may have English sections or pictures. Politely pointing is a good option if you’re not feeling brave enough to say it out loud.
  2. If you’re really nervous about speaking, you can always take a picture of what you want and show them, then you won’t run the risk of misunderstanding. Sometimes they have pictures on the wall or on their online menus, too.
  3. Even if it comes out different than what you thought you ordered, don’t panic. Just try it and keep an open mind to happy accidents. It could turn out to be your new favorite thing!

If you’re already adventurous…

Try to learn the basics of the native language in your abroad location. You can easily learn to ask what someone’s favorite dishes are when you go into a restaurant or find a street food cart. This often gets you something more adventurous than you would normally order, especially in a place where the food is completely unfamiliar.

Try to get suggestions of places or dishes from your local friends you meet, no one knows better than locals. Don’t shy away from precarious looking street food. Though this is different from the way food is doled out in your home country, these are often the best places to go to get authentic, delicious (and cheap) food. Plus they usually only have a few things and no menu, so pointing is even easier here.

Keep up your adventurous spirit and try whatever you can!

If you are a picky eater…

Picky eaters like to stay within their comfort zone. But, being abroad in a place you may never go again, with incredible food you may never be able to try again is worth being uncomfortable for. Extended stay abroad programs gives you so much time to try new foods; you don’t have to reach instantly for the fish gill soup or grilled alligator.

Start small, order the local version of something you liked at home. Next time, try something more adventurous. Worst case scenario, you won’t like it. Finding the things you don’t like is just as important as finding the ones you do like.

If you’ve been really adventurous with food and you’re feeling new-food-burnout, go back to a comfort meal once in a while. You have plenty of time to try new things, not every meal needs to be bold and stress-inducing.

Food is a beautiful, tasty path to learning the local culture. The more you try, the less daunting it becomes over time.

Bailee Esposito, University of Colorado is studying abroad in Thailand with TEAN.