A meeting for international students has been scheduled, and you wish to invite international students to attend. You go door to door in a dorm, passing out invitations. There are only a few people on your team, but you hope to invite as many as possible of the many internationals living there. After a short time, you're invited by a student into his room for tea. What do you say?
Imagine you've invited some students from the Philippines to your place for dinner. They arrive; you greet them, invite them in, and offer them chairs. But before your guests sit down, each takes a handkerchief from his pocket, wipes the chair and then spreads the cloth on the chair. Before the meal, your guests take the table napkins, and wipe the plates and silverware. What are you thinking as they do this?
You've become friends with a student from Zimbabwe, and he invites you to his room for a meal. You accept, and have a nice evening together. You may have stayed too long though, because when you leave, he also leaves, and walks your direction for a little while, before heading off in another direction. You wish to deepen the friendship, so a few days later you invite him to join you for dinner. He accepts, and after a nice evening together you help your guest with his jacket, thank him for coming, and say good-bye. The next day you meet him and in talking with each other it seems there's a coldness in the conversation. What happened?
During the morning, at different times, you meet two international students with whom you're acquainted, an African, and a German. During conversation with each of them you say, "Maybe I'll have a bit of time this afternoon, but I'm not sure. If it works out, I'll stop by and visit you." Whom will you find at home, if you do go to visit?
You are a missionary in an Arabic country and happen to meet an acquaintance on the sidewalk in front of your house. What do you do?
You greet him and continue what you were doing
You greet him and take time for a long conversation
You invite him into your home
You do nothing
You're proud of your new dress, and ask an international student in your group, "How do you like my new dress? Do you think it makes me look too fat?" He answers, "It's not the dress, my dear, you are fat!" How do you feel?
WHAT IS CULTURE?
Culture is something created by people, it's their way of life, a functionally organized system which makes everything "work" or "fit" together. Culture is an all-embracing plan of life, learned by each individual as that individual grows up, which makes everything fit and make sense. Culture is the lifestyle of a societal group, and isn't individualistic.
The way a society looks at the world is built up out of repeated inner attitudes and motivations which lead to a complex system which is unique to that society. It's what makes an Arab an Arab, an American an American, and an Englishman an Englishman.
Every world-view or culture contains some parts or elements which are sinful, from Jesus' viewpoint. It is possible, however, that these parts become molded in such a way that the culture as a whole becomes more Christian.
There is no such thing as "a single Christian world-view," and no such thing as "a Christian world-view" in any country, because any world-view is interwoven with the particular culture it finds itself in, and can't be separated from it.
A Simplistic Contrast
Some of the differences in value, worth and custom of the "western" and "middle-eastern" world-views:
what you do
whom you know
small, intimate family
extended (relatives included)
aged stay with family
the old are separated
the old are respected
children leave early
children stay until married
time oriented relationships (work, free time)
person oriented relationships (hospitality)
little rote memory
dichotomized (spiritual and secular)
integrated (religion, family and culture)
LEARNING ABOUT CULTURAL DIFFERENCES
In order to have an effective ministry with internationals, it's necessary to understand something about culture. Books are a good source to learn about culture, but everyday life can be an even better teacher. If you're willing to learn, open your eyes and ears, and ask good questions of your international friend, you'll learn much about his or her culture, and gain new insight into your own culture as well.
The many areas where cultures are quite different will give you opportunities for conversation as you share with each other about the differences, and also will give you opportunities to show practical love as you help. Some of these areas are: the climate and weather (you might help your international friend find proper clothing for your weather); the language (you might give help in understanding words, especially slang); the differences in wealth of your two societies; the ways interpersonal relationships function (greetings, good-byes, friendships, dating); life's necessities (food, housing, money - very specific help may be needed. You may help your friend find food from back home from a specialty shop); and matters of faith (why there are so many churches, but the society isn't "Christian," the lack of integration of faith and life in our society).
Often international students are expecting cultural differences in major areas, such as with food or language, but aren't thinking of differences in areas such as how people interact with each other, or how long a person looks at another person in the eye, or how we show affection toward a member of the opposite sex. It's in these unexpected areas of difference that international students often become confused, or even sometimes deeply hurt or angry. It's when someone is not expecting a difference that the difference can be so dramatic.
It's important to remember that your international friend's culture isn't more primitive or better or worse than our own, it's simply different. As you learn about these differences, you'll understand your international friend more and more, and especially be able to give practical help when he struggles to fit into our culture during this time of study here.
Look and Learn
How to See: Look - Look - Look
When you visit your international friend, what do your eyes see? Notice the furnishings and objects in the room, the prayer rug, stereo, art objects, posters on the door and walls, pictures, photos, books on the bookshelf, map on the wall. This will show you something about what your friend considers important.
What is your friend wearing? Not wearing? Are there shoes outside the door? (Did you walk into the clean room without taking off your shoes!?)
What do you see in your friend's facial expressions? Is he or she puzzled, confused, frustrated, distant, uneasy, angry?
Ask and Listen
Your ears will teach you much about your friend's culture. You can ask questions such as, "What do you find interesting (strange, comical, different) about life here?" "How are families here different?" "How are studies different?" Answers to questions such as these will give you great insight.
Asking your friend to share from his life and family will also teach you much. You can ask,
"Do you have pictures of home?" "Of your family?"
"Please tell me, who, what, where..."
"Where is your home town (on the map)?"
"What do people in your country think about people here?"
"What do you like to eat?" "What do you not like to eat?"
"What do you do in your spare time?"
"Do you have hobbies?"
"What are you enjoying doing the most here?" (Does he have contact with others, or is he stuck all alone in his room?)
As mentioned earlier, books about your friend's culture and country are helpful. Also the internet, newspapers and magazines are a good source of information.
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS
If you refuse the invitation because of time, you've just missed an opportunity to get to know someone who might have come to your meeting with you, and instead you've passed out many almost worthless invitations. Most international students won't come based on an invitation from a total stranger, but after a personal conversation the probability of attending is higher. You must plan, at the minimum, half an hour's visit for such an invitation.
You are insulted and think your guests think little of your cleanliness? Their actions have nothing to do with your poor housekeeping, but are part of creating a warm atmosphere in some parts of the Philippines. If you become angry, you're only pronouncing judgment based on your own cultural background, and haven't yet understood the culture of your guests.
In some tribes of Zimbabwe it's a sign of friendship to walk with your guest part of his or her way home. How far you walk together is a sign of how deep the friendship is. He walked with you part way home, but you took him only to the door.
The African is glad you'll visit him, and waits at home until you come, even if he had something else to do. The German won't be at home, unless he didn't have anything else to do, since your statement was so vague. What would you have done?
a) and d) are very impolite. b) Only dogs talk with each other on the street. c) is the correct way to treat someone.
In the culture of your friend's African tribe, you've just received a friendly compliment, which says, "You look wonderful, healthy, and well cared for!"