Cross-Cultural Engagement



Noah St. John is a young white American male who has studied the dance/martial art of capoeira. Watch this video in which he describes his experience.  Pay particular attention to what he says about participation in this element of a culture not his own.


Read this piece about how an American in Afghanistan learned to appreciate the local culture by participating in Ramadan with his housemates.


One of the realities of traveling into a different culture is that it is difficult to anticipate your own assumptions because you live and behave inside those assumptions every day. The phrase “it’s the water you swim in” comes to mind. The goal of this unit is to make the invisible cultural assumptions that shape your life visible. Doing that takes work!

Bring to mind a personal journey into another culture. For example:

  • A visit to another religious community different from your own tradition
  • Your first trip to a major urban city from your small town or rural background (or vice versa)
  • A first foray into eating a meal from another tradition (e.g., Jewish Seder or break-fast for Ramadan)
  • A first visit to a gay or lesbian bar or house party
  • Visiting the home of someone who was extremely wealthy or very poor

If you are a person of color, you have likely learned to navigate more than one culture already, and you do so on a regular basis. Reflect on the way that your family and friends taught you to do so, and how you have passed that wisdom on to others.

Open your journal, and reflect on the following questions:

  • How often are you required to cross a boundary into another culture?
  • If you do it frequently, what helps you do it with ease and grace?
  • If you do it seldom, what emotional muscles might you need to strengthen?
  • What is helpful to you when you are in an emotionally uncomfortable environment?
Suggested Activity

In preparation for an immersion-learning journey, sometimes it’s helpful to practice entering into a culture that is different from your own. Even for folks in the global majority, who are more skilled at code-switching and navigating different culture, we recommend that you stretch yourself beyond your daily and weekly patterns. Here are some suggestions for you to consider in the coming weeks:

  • If you’ve never been to a mosque, make a plan to visit one.
  • If you’ve never been to a worship service hosted by another racial group or in a language different from your own, set aside time for a firsthand experience.
  • Shop at a grocery store from a different ethnic group than your own. Ask the folks who work there for support in purchasing the ingredients for a meal that is new to you. Go home and try the recipe out.

After trying one of these activities, spend some time in reflection and capture your thoughts and feelings in your journal. What do you see, feel, and learn about yourself as you sit in a different cultural context?

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