Crossing Boundaries

Attitude matters! As you prepare for your journey, you may find yourself feeling many things: eagerness, anxiety, curiosity, bafflement, or excitement.

Try to pay attention to these feelings. Especially during your moments of nervousness, instead of steeling yourself for what’s to come or getting excessively busy trying to organize every detail, open yourself to a world of new possibilities.

As you envision the learning and work in which you’ll engage, remember that you will be doing it with and for real people whom you do not yet know. This means that everything you’re hoping and envisioning may not unfold in quite the way you anticipate: there are other players on the field.


Tips for Before and During Your Journey

Here are some tips that might be of help to you, both before and during your journey:

  • Remind yourself of the reasons you decided to make this journey, and re-examine your sense of self and your position in terms of privilege, race, and class. (A review of Unit One may be helpful here.)
  • Really engage in the background reading and orientation materials you’ve been provided. Learn all that you can about the country, state, or region to which you are traveling.
  • Familiarize yourself with the ways culture and customs shape the pride and sense of self of your hosts. It’s easier to have a conversation with someone when you have a sense of what that person holds dear.
  • Remember you are here to connect and learn, as seamlessly as possible. Before you make suggestions to your host community, think carefully about your motivation, and your role as a guest in a place not your own.
  • Remember that you are here because you are engaged in your own journey of growth and development. This is a pilgrimage of spirit and solidarity.
  • Listen. Listen. Understand what is important to a person (e.g., motivations, history, traditions, and expectations). Such knowledge should inform and temper your actions and reactions. Remember, you’re not there to judge.
  • Be respectful. Sometimes customs in an area can seem not only alien to you, but also unnecessary. For example, in the deep American South it is customary to address one’s elders with a traditional form of address, i.e., “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, “Ms.”, or “Dr.”. (It is not unusual for young, white Americans to think nothing of addressing an 80-year-old by her first name.)
  • Work as hard and sincerely as you are able, but be available to talk with the people you’re assisting. Sometimes lending an ear is the task that’s most needed.
Cross-Cultural Engagement: A Self-Audit
Please read through the following self-audit, and record your answers to the prompts in your journal.

Step One: Self-Assessment

Affirmative Introspection – Exploring the Inner Landscape

  • What pushes your buttons when dealing with people who believe differently from you about things you care about?
  • Are there ways your religious tradition and beliefs might influence your behavior toward or expectations of others in your travel group?
  • Are you comfortable with yourself no matter with whom you are working alongside or on behalf of?

Self-Governance – Getting a Handle on Your Feelings

  • Are you adaptable and flexible when engaging different forms of worship, music, preaching, education?  When others use religious language different from yours?
  • Can you manage your discomfort when you are uncertain about what to do?
  • When you face resistance or difficulties, is your “self-talk” affirming and realistic?

Intercultural Literacy – Reading Others Accurately

  • Do you know about the cultural differences that influence the behavior of your fellow travelers and/or community hosts?
  • Can you see the benefits in theological/spiritual values that show up in ways you don’t like?
  • Can you put yourself in others’ positions and see things from their point of view?

Social Architecting – Enrolling and Engaging Others

  • When you see a behavior that challenges your expectations, do you consider multiple explanations?
  • Can you adapt your communication style to be effective with a wide array of individuals?
  • When you find yourself in a conflict, can you engage with the other person from a standpoint of curiosity instead of judgment?
  • Are you able to help create welcoming and engaging environments in both small and large group interactions?

Once you complete the self-audit, reflect on your patterns. What areas come easily for you? What areas are challenging? Being aware of the strengths that you bring, as well as your growing edges, will enhance your participation with other travelers and community members.

Step Two: Check Out Your Assumptions

Identify a longtime friend or confidant who has known you over time and perhaps in multiple contexts. It should be someone who has the ability to be honest in a useful way (not someone who would love a chance to ding you for former transgressions).

Send the questions that follow along to your “interviewer” before your meeting. Be prepared to simply “listen” to that person’s perspective. Don’t argue or debate what is shared.

  • What is your experience of me when I am under stress?
  • How well do see me adapting to unexpected change?
  • What happens when I don’t get my way?
  • Share an experience when I took on something new that was risky. How did I do?
  • When have you seen me be the most generous with strangers?
  • How has my relationship positively influenced your life?

Adapted by Mark A. Hicks from Jorge Cherbosque, Lee Gardenswartz, and Anita Rowe’s Emotional Intelligence for Managing Results in a Diverse World.


Take a Break!
Enjoy this ad, created by HSBC, an international bank. There are so many ways to think about cultural diversity!

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