Avoiding Biggest Volunteer Mistakes: Cultural Misunderstandings
Regardless of your travel destination, it’s more than likely you’ll encounter a different culture along the way. This is an exciting opportunity that requires some preparation to ensure you fully enjoy your experience abroad. Otherwise, you may give way to cultural misunderstandings.
Cultural misunderstandings usually stem from assumptions about a certain culture, and these misunderstandings can lead to embarrassing encounters. To avoid these sticky situations, keep positive and realistic expectations while you’re traveling abroad.
Take our advice on overcoming cultural misunderstandings before you go:
Before you go, it’s a great idea to brush up on the culture you’ll encounter, regardless if you’ve experienced it before.
There are many different ways you can research the culture of your destination. Here are just a few:
- Talk to someone who’s been there.
- Read the local news of your destination.
- Read some nonfiction set in your host country.
- Watch YouTube videos about the culture.
- Watch documentaries about your destination.
By researching the culture, you’ll learn the basics of what you’ll experience, but you can’t expect to learn it all remotely. Only by going and immersing in the culture will you truly experience the fullness of its beauty.
Remember, you’re the guest while volunteering abroad. Things are most likely done differently in your host country, and that’s OK! It gives you the excuse to try something new, whether it be a dessert, a greeting, or a traditional dance. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone–you may only get the opportunity once!
As you try new things, do your best to keep an open mind. Be quick to listen to the locals and open to learn from them. You’ll enjoy your time more if you stay flexible and remain considerate. Who knows? You may even find friends along the way and stay connected to the culture long after you depart.
Understanding the culture of where you’re headed is an important part of your volunteer trip. To avoid cultural misunderstandings, do some research before you go and make sure to be respectful when you arrive. You’ll enjoy your time even more if you do!