Initially, one of the main sensations experienced on a short-term trip is disorientation. Everything is different… the food is different, the smells, the tastes, the modes of transportation, the schedule, the people you see and the people you don’t get to see. Even buying a bottle of water is a cultural experience… different kinds of stores in different kinds of locations with different money and a different language. All of this adds up to stress!
In addition to reminding yourself of the attitude preparation we discussed in post 4, about being flexible, following instructions and being a learner, here are some more lessons to consider:
- Be careful that when you observe people in the local culture doing things differently, you aren’t confusing doing something differently with doing something wrong or stupidly. In fact, if you look carefully (sometimes not even that carefully) you should see that you appreciate some of the local ways of doing things even better than what you are used to at home. This may also be true in the church. I recall observing a profound spirit of generosity, gratefulness, and joy among the African believers all while they were struggling economically.
- Observe how local people handle themselves in every day interactions (e.g. greeting one another, departing, entering one another’s homes, ordering food, etc.). While doing this, don’t make the mistake of thinking that something acceptable for locals to do, is also right for you to do. I remember when I lived in Korea, I heard some of the American missionary women talk about what was appropriate for them to wear. When they discussed their conclusions with a local, trusted friend, it seems they had observed the wrong kind of woman! Getting advice from missionaries is also usually helpful, because they have already identified the mistakes that foreigners usually make.
- While it is perfectly acceptable to ask local friends about cultural practices, recognize that even they may not know why things are the way they are. For example, it is difficult for us to explain why saying “please” after a request transforms the request from being demanding or rude to being polite.
- One last note. In our culture, it is appropriate for Americans to be loud. I can remember being on a bus in Istanbul and people are quietly chatting with one another until the Americans got on and start yelling at one another from one end of the bus to the other. Note to Americans: in most places in the world it isn’t polite to yell to one another in public!
- What are the different roles of husband and wives? Parents and children?
- Do men and women have different freedoms and responsibilities?
- How do families make decisions?
- How are older people in the family treated?
- What happens when family members get into conflict?
- What is the process for people to find their marriage partner?
- What happens in a marriage ceremony, and what do the symbols mean?
- What happens when a baby is born, is there a ceremony? What is it?
- What happens when a boy or girl grows up, is there a ceremony? What happens?
- What happens when a family is in crisis, where do they turn?
- What happens when someone dies, is there a ceremony? What happens?
- What are the religious ceremonies and what do they mean?
- What is the source of your family’s values?
- Do you know anyone who has switched their religion? What happened?
- What are some community wide problems?
- How are these problems normally addressed?
- What are some affiliations that non-family members have? Sports? Political Parties? Religion? Ethnicity? Gender? Hometown? Education? Company? Occupation? Organizations?
- What happens when community members get into conflict?
- What is the cause of some people to be poor and others to be rich? Is there a tension between rich and poor? Are there racial tensions as well?
- What are some recent issues in the news?
- Who are the key people in your country’s history? Why?
What media do people use to get their news? To learn new things? To be entertained?
- A really good person is characterized by…
- Someone who is really bad is someone who…
- I would support a politician who was for these issues…. against those issues…
- I know that someone has a strong faith when they…
- Christians are people who believe… Christians are people who practice their faith by…
What are some other lessons that you’ve learned from working cross-culturally?
Other posts in this series: