Responsible VolunteeringVolunteer Abroad

Experiencing Cultural Diversity

Why Consider It When Volunteering Abroad

One of the most beautiful things about travelling is to experience the diversity of cultures that exist in the world. This will open up your eyes and widen your perspective. Indeed, it gives you a different point of view than what you might be used to from you home country.

According to The Cambridge English Dictionary, culture is defined as “the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time". Explaining the features of a culture can be a complex thing to do, we will leave it to you to explore, experience and understand.

When travelling abroad one of the best ways to experience and understand a new culture is to volunteer in a local NGO. Therefore, here is a guide on what cultural diversity can mean to you as a volunteer. Also, what to keep in mind as you spend time in a culture different from your own.

What is cultural diversity?

There are reasons to be cautious when it comes to using the term culture as something static. Indeed, it is ever changing and fluid. As you travel and volunteer you will definitely experience cultural diversity. Finding yourself in a different culture from the one you are used to. You will also experience a diversity of cultures within the place that you visit.

A great way to experience a culture is through volunteering. As a volunteer you have the opportunity to stay in one place for a longer time. It will allow you to get to know the place on a deeper level. You also get to engage yourself in social issues through supporting NGOs which know the society of where they are based. Because they engage in social, financial or environmental issues. All this will allow you to grasp quicker how to act in this new environment and this new culture.

As Colin, one of the volunteer at one of our Cambodia project said: " Volunteering in local schools allowed me to see parts of the area that I wouldn't have been able to as a tourist. And coaching sports to the school children offered me a chance to interact with locals and engage in their culture. (...) I would definitely recommend Globalteer to anyone wishing to immerse themselves in a new culture. As well as stepping out of your comfort zone and make a difference to the local area!".

How might cultural diversity affect your volunteer placement or travels?

The people that you meet when you are abroad will have different expectations to you as a boy/girl, as an adult/adolescent/child, or other roles you find yourself in. They might not expect girls to carry heavy things. And they might expect boys to give up their seat or open the door. They might also have a different way of communicating. For example, if you invite someone to a dinner or a party, they might say “yes”, but actually mean “maybe” because saying “no” is considered rude.

You might also experience differences in people’s relationship with time. In some places, showing up two hours late is not considered rude. So be patient, and consider this a part of your experience of cultural learning. The environment in public transport can be very different from home, more crowded, louder, less organised. It is still worth using public transport as it will be a new exotic experience and boost your confidence as you overcome new challenges. People might be more open to share than what you are used to, and to invite you into their home and meet their family. You will get to discover also other food cultures, which can be a delightful part of your journey.

Cultural Sensitivity

Do your research before you make your visit. Or at least, move with caution when you are in a new place. You will experience that some things allow for more freedom than in your country. Such as dancing freely without any cultural restrictions or judgement, getting free samples of food from the ladies in the market, or getting into a bar without showing your ID. Simultaneously, there might be actions or behaviours that are completely common in your country but not as accepted where you are visiting. These can be obvious actions like wearing a bikini or showing skin. Or less obvious differences like the politeness of saying thank you to the bus driver or saluting elderly in the streets.

Like mentioned above, some things are worth looking into before you leave for your home country. In order to avoid potential misunderstandings or offending someone. (That being said, people will usually have less expectations to you as a foreigner and cut you some slack as you are actually brave enough to find yourself in a completely different culture). Other things are more deeply rooted features and need to be experienced. Such as; what is considered a stigma, how people raise their children, how they treat their siblings, how they move forwards in getting to know new people and how they express love. This is the beauty that a long-term travel allows. You will discover the secrets of the place you are visiting and explore cultural diversity on a deeper level.

How can exposure to cultural diversity help you grow?

Professional growth

Getting to know different cultures will prepare you for meeting and communicating with people with different perspectives than your own. Being able to interact with people from different background is always a plus. In a globalised world, this can also benefit future professional opportunities. An experience like this shows curiosity, acceptance, bravery, maturity and open mindedness. It will also allow experience in dealing with people from a different culture, which you will likely have to do at some point in your professional career as well.

Personal growth, widen your perspective!

Living in one culture will always shape our values, our patterns, as well as our way of being. There are parts of our behaviour that are integrated in us by your culture. This is something you will often not be aware of until you have torn yourself away from you culture and experienced something different. More so if you do this for a longer period of time. Getting a different perspective can help you raise your awareness and make you more critical towards your own way of being. This can be a beautiful and humbling experience that makes room for understanding, potential change and tremendous self-growth. So, take precautions, be curious and respectful and enjoy your cultural adventure!

Whether it is to travel or to volunteer when you arrive in a new country, just take it all in, nothing bad can happen to you if you merge yourself in this new culture. Overall, stay open to new things, it can only bring you fun, knowledge and make it a rewarding experience!