A brief explanation of cultural exchange.
You may have read the words “cultural exchange” a few times on our mission and vision pages, but what does that even mean? As more people choose to go abroad and borders break beneath us, understanding what a cultural exchange experience is and how it impacts the mission of a nonprofit is paramount.
Put simply, cultural exchange occurs when people of two different backgrounds trade ideas, feelings, stories and customs. It is not to be confused with cultural appropriation which involves a dominant culture taking (and often misrepresenting) aspects of a less-advantaged culture. Instead, cultural exchange should be enjoyable for both parties.
What does cultural exchange have to do with volunteering?
By itself, volunteering abroad can be a pretty singular experience. As people privileged enough to travel, we can sometimes lapse into the idea that helping others is more for us than for them. After all, helping others in new places does feel good and it can be easy to center the story on ourselves in all the excitement. But with the mindset that our trip abroad is about exchange rather than personal gain, international volunteering becomes something equitable. Cultural exchange means taking the unique opportunity to learn about a country in a person to person style, closing the gap between places.
How do I get the most out of my experience then?
A cultural exchange experience begins with immersion. The more you interact with your destination and the people in it, the more you’ll learn and get to teach. Being open is a two-way street. The best way to immerse oneself is to dive in to some of the more challenging or localized aspects of a culture:
- Learn the language from a native.
- Check out museums dedicated to the country’s art and culture.
- Review the country’s history and current events before even leaving.
- Attend local festivals and celebrations.
- Make local friends! Listen to their stories and tell your own.
Each of these activities will put you in spaces that encourage you to participate rather than view the culture from a distance. Placement in one of our volunteer houses can also help you engage. By living with other volunteers, you’re bound to end up exploring and making new friends from not just where your project is located but all around the world. With the option of weeks-long placements, you’ll have plenty of time to connect with the community around you.
A crucial part of Responsible Volunteering.
Globalteer prides itself on the principle of Responsible Volunteering and cultural exchange is a crucial part of this. Our partner projects are locally owned and operated and we regularly recruit native employees. By connecting with homegrown efforts, we stay in touch with the needs of the communities we serve and give our volunteers a chance to learn more about these sites first-hand. In turn, our volunteers are vetted so that our partners get the best help for them. In this environment, cultural exchange can flourish.