Being culturally sensitive
Things to Consider
Visiting a new country and experiencing a new culture is much different from what you are used to back home – different language, customs and clothing being the most obvious. The most important thing is to remain open to the experience and seek to learn from it.
Remember that you are a guest in Guatemala and in the communities that you visit. Be humble, show gratitude, and enjoy the experience for what it is, without comparing it to what you are used to back home. Learning a few key phrases or words such as “hello, goodbye, where’s the restroom, please and thank you” can take you a long way and is a useful way to gain respect from the locals.
The roles of men and women may be different than what you are used to. Don’t make any assumptions or judgments, but do your research. This does not mean that you should fulfill the traditional male/female roles, but you should be aware of what to expect and of how your differences might be seen.
Likewise, it’s always good to be aware of gestures that might be considered inappropriate or insulting. For example, what is commonly used as the “peace” sign in the United States, when presented with the palm facing inwards is offensive in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. Similarly, the “thumbs up” gesture has a vulgar meaning in parts of Latin America.
- You are the gift
- “Give of yourself, teach and share about your culture, family, and hobbies.
- What can I bring/do?
- Bring old clothes and shoes from your closet
- You will be personally responsible for packing such items
- Sometimes people pack clothes they can wear during the trip and donate to community members after. This also creates extra space for souvenirs for the trip home.
- Can I bring school supplies?
- Please purchase such supplies in-country so we can help the local economy
- You may bring elementary reading level books, but remember you must pack them in your own suitcase
- When can I gift?
- We will let you know when it would be appropriate to offer your gifts – please do not give gifts without asking the trip leader
- Ask yourself, “What can I gift to the community that is not tangible?”
- Consider an intangible gift you can leave with the children.
- You can teach them a song, paint with them, teach them a magic trick, play soccer with them, etc.
- Though in many countries stopping and snapping a photo of anything or anyone may seem a normal occurrence, many small communities around the world are not yet as comfortable with this modern technology.
- In parts of Guatemala, it is believed that taking a photo steals the soul of the person being photographed, and people are quick to anger if you try to take pictures of them or their children.
- However, the communities we work with have no problem being photographed: there is no need to ask before taking photos in these communities. Kids especially enjoy being photographed. Show them the photo after you’ve taken it – they will get a thrill out of seeing it!