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Eleven Tips for Cultural Sensitivity

Looking for a cheat sheet to cultural sensitivity for your group? Look no further. Here’s 11 tips for cultural sensitivity. 

1. Respect Your Elders (And Those In Authority)

While on a mission trip, respecting those who are in authority over you, such as the group leader, host pastor or trip leader is of the utmost importance. They know the big picture and long-term plans for the ministry you are working alongside, and have legit reasons for the rules and instructions they give you.

2. Eat What’s On Your Plate, Don’t Be Wasteful, And Be Thankful

Consider it a rule to always eat what’s on your plate. If you don’t like it that’s okay, but keep that opinion to yourself. Be thankful that you have food to eat, and don’t be wasteful. Someone likely worked hard to prepare your food, and there are others in the world who would be grateful to have the plate of food sitting in front of you.

3. Be Polite To Strangers And Friends

When you are polite to others, it makes us all feel more connected. So, as you are immersed in a different culture or community during your trip, be polite to friends and members of your team, as well as people you meet in the community.

4. Smile, Wave, And Be Friendly

Be aware of the facial expressions you are making and what they might look like to someone who doesn’t know you. As you are travelling and interacting with others, be aware of the signals your body language can give off. Even if you are feeling happy, a scowl on your face will tell others something different. Easy ways to be friendly with your body language are to smile often, relax your facial muscles, wave to strangers and greet them with a simple “Hello.” Chances are, even if they don’t speak the same language as you, they understand the greeting of hello. Plus, a smile is universal: one language for the whole world.

5. Don’t Stare

Think about when someone stares at you: doesn’t it usually make you feel uncomfortable? On a mission trip, where EVERYTHING is different, you’ll want to stare at the new sites, people and activities around you - but don’t, that’s a huge no-no. However, observing is different than staring. Observe how a vendor sells bracelets, but don’t stare at him or her. If someone has a disability, is doing something new to you or is different in appearance, do not stare. Observe daily life of the culture you are in, but be intentional about not staring at others.

6. Don’t Judge Others

To put it simply, judging is one of the most divisive things we can do to other people. When you judge someone due to their dress, culture, way of life, money, or material possessions, you put yourself above them. You create a divide between yourself and them. Worse than that, it is easy to judge someone before you really get to know them. Keep an open mind about the new experiences you are having and the amazing people you are meeting and who knows, maybe they’ll teach you a thing or two!

7. Be Modest In Dress

Isn’t this simple enough to understand? When serving in another place, you want to be above the highest reproach. This means being respectful even to the most conservative of people, ensuring that nothing will form a barrier between you and their culture. Isn’t that the goal? Even if the local people don’t dress as conservatively, remember that you are representing Christ and you want people to see His light and THAT is our goal.

8. Ask Permission If You Are Unsure

When questions come up about situations like travelling, purchasing things, leaving the group, or whether your shorts are long enough… ask! One of the easiest and best ways to avoid conflict and confusion is to ask permission or for advice if you are unsure.

9. Say Please And Thank You

Simple, right? You’d think that. Something that is so simple in our own culture can sometimes get lost in another place. Whether due to being out of our normal circumstances, or feeling separated due to language barriers, please and thank you can be forgotten. If you are unsure how to say please and thank you in another language, ask someone for help. But at the very least, say it in your own language anyway!

10. Keep Negative Opinions To Yourself

No one likes negativity and no one likes a complainer. This is doubly true when negative opinions pertain to personal issues like culture, daily lifestyle, clothing, food, or politics. You are a guest in the state or country you are serving in - remember, you are the foreigner! The ways of your host country have no right to be criticized by you, in public or otherwise. So if you have negative opinions, keep them to yourself. 

11. If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say, Don’t Say Anything At All.

I’m not sure what genius came up with this line, but I know we’ve all heard it and said it. Simple and to the point, it needs no explanation.

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