Below you can read a text from our international volunteer coordinator Francesco, a text that highlights the meeting of cultures, and why we should continue discover more.
If you volunteer abroad you get to know about new cultures. But what does it really mean “learning about new cultures”? Is it about discovering different food, languages, art and music? Or is it more? Is it easy to get a real insight into another culture through volunteering?
Well, cultures are much more than what’s visible to the naked eye: using an analogy, what we can see about a culture is like the top of an iceberg, very small compared to what lies underneath and supports it. Below the surface there is a world of values that deeply shape everything that a culture is: concept of time, personal space, what is friendship, how direct can you be with someone, etc.
Not understanding the culture you are immersed in can be tough. When speaking to volunteers about to go on a project, “cultural shock” is always one of the things they are most worried about. To them, we say that volunteering will allow them to know the bottom of the iceberg, and although it can be difficult at times, it is definitely one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences that volunteering abroad can offer. Especially because our international partners, hosts and leaders know how to support volunteers during this process.
If you want to read more about Intercultural Learning and “culture as an iceberg”, we would recommend that you have a look at this free online resource: Intercultural Learning T-Kit. Here is a quote taken from it: “Intercultural learning can be one tool in our efforts to understand the complexity of today’s world, by understanding others and ourselves a bit better. […]. Intercultural learning may enable us to better face the challenges of current realities. We can understand it as empowerment not just to cope personally with current developments, but to deal with the potential of change, which can have a positive and constructive impact in our societies. Our intercultural learning capacities are needed now more than ever”.