In preparing for this semester abroad we were told that it was very important to view this trip not as tourists but as pilgrims; that we should observe and learn the culture, and to be open to new ways of thinking. That being culturally appropriate was of the utmost importance and if we offended someone, we would forever be “shamed and exiled” from Southeast Asia.
One doesn’t have to go to another country to experience different cultures. Families, communities, and individuals all carry with them their own ideas, beliefs, and ways of doing things. SSU alone has its own culture: from holding hands and praying before meals and clapping in thanks after, to heading over to the Fitch residence for class.
It is never a question of ‘if’ you will offend someone, more a matter of when and it is our job to not take offense. Back in Canada our minds are not plagued with the fear of being culturally inappropriate. Our understanding is that with different people come different ways of doing things. By simply observing and getting to know the people around you, cultures become quite apparent and sensitivity and grace go a long way in making genuine connections.