09 March 2011

Engaging in Cross-Cultural Experiences

Meeting friends at an international student hospitality dinner at our University

In the last few months I've touched on some cross-cultural etiquette (see here and here). There will be more to come in posts like these, but I wanted to give some outlets for cross-cultural outreach before going further. Perhaps many of you already have friends from here or there, where others may live in a place that offers little diversity. Sometimes diversity can be difficult to find if you don't have the eyes to look for it. If you keep an eager eye out I promise you it'll come your way. These resources may also be of help in your journey to reach beyond your borders. Though many of these are intended to fulfill some need "out there" I promise that the rewards of cross-cultural outreach come back ten-fold. It is such a blessing!

Remember, it is not their job to come to you. They are GUESTS in OUR country. It is our job to be hospitable and reach out!

Here are some ideas:

-Volunteer with refugees. The International Rescue Committee is just one of many organizations working with displaced people that have been forced to flee their countries because of war or crisis. Check it out here to see if there are any offices to volunteer at in your area.

-Ethnic churches. This is another way to mingle with people of other nationalities. Search the internet for houses of worship for specific groups of people. In our area we have Chinese, Arab, Korean, Indian, and Iranian churches to name a few. As a Christian I enjoy worshiping with my brothers and sisters of other ethnicities. But even if you're not its a great way to meet good friends from other cultures.

-Visit your local temple, synagogue, or mosque. This is a great way to learn more about other people's culture and belief system. I remember visiting one of our local Hindu temples a while back. The people were so gracious to give me a tour and explain the meaning behind each deity. Also, check and see if there are any "societies" you can visit. Such an an Islamic or Buddhist society of your area. They would be happy to help you connect with people in the area.

-Universities and international student groups. What a great place to make friends! If you have a big university in your area I would bet my left foot they have international students there studying, and maybe even an international hospitality group trying to connect Americans with visiting students. This type of friendship building is so easy and so fun. Many of these students are working on their PhD and are in labs all day. Getting off campus for a little fun and experiencing American culture in your home is a great blessing! If you aren't a student anymore, maybe consider "adopting" a student and being their American family while they are staying here.

-Practicing English. There is almost always a university, community college, or language school nearby. Often these schools will have conversation times where Americans can volunteer to help and international learn English. This is a great way to offer a service and build relationships.

-Ethnic Food Stores. This is one of my favorite ways to meet people. It may never go beyond knowing a name and checking in on how their family is doing, but frequenting your local ethnic market is a great way to make friends. When I lived closer to our local halal market I would make it a point to go in every couple weeks even to buy a little carton of juice just so I could say hello to "Eddie" and ask how his week is going.

-Ethnic Restaurants. Not ideal for building relationships, but a great way to immerse yourself in a new culture, appreciate the food, and be kind to your waiter. It is most fun to make an international friend and then go to a restaurant that serves their particular types of food. It's a great way to share together and they will totally enjoy teaching you a little something!

-Your children's schoolmates. I don't know the last time you checked out your children's peers but I'd bet they have tons of playmates with different backgrounds than their own. Consider making a play date with these children. Your kids need to be immersed in other cultures as much as you do. And it helps to develop a well balanced character and an appreciation for other cultures in your children.

-Survey your area. It may sound a little stereotypical to say "go to their side of town." But its true. Let's face it- we all gravitate towards what we know and its no different for internationals living in America. Here in Orlando I know exactly where to hang out if I want to meet a particular group of people. Thank goodness for this, because without it we would all be completely clueless. So go where the people are. Get out of your comfort zone and be with the people where they are comfortable!

-TRAVEL! This point speaks for itself. This is great for two reasons. 1) It is guaranteed you will meet people unlike yourself and give you experience interacting with people from other backgrounds. 2) You will finally be able to understand what it is like to be the new kid in town. The one who looks different and eats different and talks different. Everyone needs to understand what it is like to be a foreigner living in a strange place. If we all understood that we would be much more willing to reach out.

I hope this gives you a starting point for reaching out if you haven't before or a few new ideas if you're a seasoned cross-culture enthusiast. If you have any questions, concerns, or more tips to add leave a comment below!

1 comment:

  1. such a great post! i was an international development studies major in college, and i truly believe in the importance of travel & experiencing other cultures & really getting out of your comfort zone. can't wait to read more :)