It is exciting to think about living in a different country – new food to taste, new music to hear, new sights to see, new friends to make!
It is important to remember though that equally as new will be the professional environment you will experience during your volunteer placement. Each country–and even regions within a country–is likely to have unique methods of communication, problem solving, and expectations.
To gain the most from your placement, here are some tips for how best to navigate working within a new culture:
1) Start with yourself
Before looking outward, before making assumptions about what is going on around you, first look inward. It is important to consider why you have preconceptions and subconscious actions, and what they are. Preconceptions and subconscious actions are not necessarily bad, we all have them. What can be dangerous however is when they are not acknowledged or understood. Take time to consider the fact that you will think and do things differently than other people and vice versa, and to remember that this is great because differences are what help you learn.
2) Be willing to adapt
As mentioned above, it is inevitable that what you consider to be normal thoughts and actions may not necessarily be normal for others. It is therefore important to keep an open mind and allow yourself to adjust accordingly because during your Gap Year placement, you are a guest. Tread carefully and don’t be afraid to adapt as you learn from your new experiences.
3) Stay Curious
There is never one right way to do something - take the opportunity to be curious about different perspectives and approaches. A lack of interest in or even awareness for doing so can easily be perceived by other people as disrespect or being dismissive. Watch and listen.
4) When in doubt, ask!
If you don’t understand something or the reasoning behind it, the worst conclusion to make is that it is somehow wrong or to carry on un- or mis-informed. The best thing to do is ask! By respectfully asking for clarification, you will most likely learn something you may never had before considered or known, and ultimately expand your world view.
5) Be Friendly
Learning to work in a new place and culture is about developing relationships, and in order to do so it is important to treat people with the same kindness, respect and openness that you hope to be treated with.
(Adapted from the article ‘Work Effectively Across Cultures’)