What is a Culture Buddy?


  We recently completed the trial run of our new teen pre-field training program; preparing teenagers (and their parents!) for the transition to life in a new culture. One concept that this group tightly latched onto, was the idea of a Culture Buddy.

When I first introduced this topic to the group of teens, I got a lot of giggles and skeptical looks. A "Culture Buddy? Really?" Yes, really. Here's what it is and why it's important-not only for kids and teens of any age, but for adults as well. To my surprise, they were not only believers by the end of that session, but the Culture Buddy concept came up constantly thereafter. My silly idea apparently made an impression! Success!

What is a Culture Buddy?

A Culture Buddy is someone of any age, native to the culture where you are moving, who becomes a friend, and is willing to teach you the nuances and practicalities of the culture. 

How Do You Find a Culture Buddy?

Make friends! Your Culture Buddy is someone who will also, ideally, become a close friend. Start by meeting people when you arrive in the new country and scope out who you think might be a good fit for this role. The person can be any age and must have enough free time to spend being your Culture Buddy. It can be tempting to first engage with the expatriate community in the new country, but that will not lead to a deep understanding of the culture. Expatriates can only teach the culture of expatriates living in that country and their perspective of the local culture, but never the complex heart of the culture.  Thus, your Culture Buddy cannot be another expatriate and must be a native of the culture.

Help your children find a Culture Buddy by fostering opportunities for them to meet other kids their age in the community. Perhaps one of those kid's parents will become your Culture Buddy!

What Do You Do With Your Culture Buddy?

How you go about working with your Culture Buddy depends most significantly on your age. An adult, for example, would have very different goals than a 6 year old, but both would benefit greatly from the Culture Buddy concept.

1) Explain to the potential Culture Buddy what your hopes for the relationship are. For example say, "I would love to be your friend and I'm hoping that you would be willing to teach me about your culture. Perhaps we can spend time together a couple of days each week and you can teach me some things about life in this country?"

2) Once you have found your Culture Buddy, set measurable goalsthat you would like to accomplish during your time together. Have only 1 goal per time spent together. 

If you have young TCKs, work with them to help them set their goals and keep them simple. You may also consider setting a family goal that each family member works on separately with their culture buddy, then you can compare what you have learned with each other.

Goals could include:

  • Learn how to greet properly depending on the situation

  • Learn how to play a common game

  • Learn a song or chant that most everyone in the culture knows

  • Learn three common non-verbal gestures and how to appropriately use them

  • Learn to use the public transit system

  • Learn how to navigate the food market like a local

  • Do an activity that the locals would commonly do for fun (i.e. go to a movie, go to the beach, play a game, etc.)

3) Clearly explain your goal to your Culture Buddy and explain why learning that concept or skill is important to you.

4) Humble yourself and allow your Culture Buddy to teach you to do things their way!

For older TCKs and adults: Once you have developed a deeper relationship and have built trust with your Culture Buddy, you will be able to ask questions about the more complex nuances of the culture such as why the people place value and importance on some things and not others. This is the stage when you really begin to understand the core of the culture.

The Culture Buddy is an easy concept that can be effectively used by a person of any age. It is a student-directed, strategic, relational method of learning the new culture that you are a part of. So, find a Culture Buddy for yourself and encourage your children and teens to do so as well!

Which Culture-Learning Attitude are you Teaching Your Kids?


  Most people who move overseas do so with some sort of goal in mind - missions work, starting a business, teaching at a school, etc. While this is inherently good, and is often the reason for moving overseas at all, these goals can make it easy to enter into the new culture, "guns blazing", ready to make changes. While I could get into all of the negative implications this can have on the effectiveness of the work you do, the relationships built with the natives, and the lack of long-term results you will likely see, I'd like to focus simply on what your attitude regarding entering a new culture teaches your children.

Your children are watching you and are constantly learning from you. In your home culture, you know how to teach them the social norms, rules, customs, and values, but when you enter into a new culture, that set of rules changes and leaves you unsure of how to move forward. In a TED Talk by Julien Bourrelle, he lists three ways an individual can react when they move into a new culture: confront, complain, or conform. When you choose, or subconsciously do any of these, you are subtly teaching your children how they, too, should navigate this new place and culture.

Confront: I could use the word "combat" interchangeably here. This is an attitude of fighting for things to be done "the right way." This attitude might come through in subtle ways such as mumbling, "If they would just do it this way, it would go so much faster!" or in deciding that your family will remain American (or whatever your passport nationality is) in every way possible while living in the different culture. This attitude can either be blatantly against cultural integration, or just subtly unwilling to adapt. Either inherently teaches your children that the passport country's way is the best way, and thus causes them to also be fighters of, instead of learners of, the new culture. It fosters a prideful attitude that says there is only "one right way to do things" and that the people in the new country clearly have it wrong. 

Complain: It drives us crazy when our children whine and complain, and yet, sometimes we subconsciously teach them that this is an appropriate attitude toward an unfavorable situation. Living in a new culture can bring out annoyances and push your buttons, so to speak, on a daily basis. Your children are looking to you to learn the acceptable way of responding in those situations. Unfortunately, in my years in East Africa, I heard many parents complain about the local people, customs, or ways of doing things to their children. Often, it was in the form of a nonchalant or joking comment. This does not foster an attitude of acceptance, humility, and respect, but instead enforces a "better than" mentality.

Conform: Or, adapt. This does not necessarily mean that you need to change everything from your clothing to what your family values are, but it does mean learning to live like the people in the new culture do, in some ways. Adapting teaches your children that there is more than one right way to do things, encourages a love for diversity, a respect for all people, and a positive attitude in the midst of potentially frustrating and uncomfortable situations. As they see you working to adapt, accept, and learn the way that things are done in the new place, they too will feel the freedom to integrate into the new culture.

By living in a different culture, your children have the opportunity to truly become lovers of the world - global citizens - in an intimate, life-altering way that would not be nearly as possible if they lived only in their passport country. Don't squelch this opportunity by teaching them to confront or complain. As parents, you are actively teaching your children what their attitude should be toward the new culture, so be vigilant about enforcing a positive attitude; one that encourages conformity and a positive, benefit-of-the-doubt, response when something looks different than what you, or they, are used to. Encourage and display the attitude of one who is a student of the culture, not a teacher there to convert the people to the "right" way of doing things. Foster in your children an attitude of humility by first displaying one yourself. 

5 Strategic Ways to Learn a New Culture as a Family


  Many businesses and organizations provide training for the adults that they send to live overseas. Some even offer children's and teens’ programs to prepare the kids for the transition. However, there is often a bit of a gap between the training the adults receive and the training the children receive. After all, the family is moving into a new culture together and should therefore have tools that they can strategically use together as they learn a new language and culture. The children and the parents should not be operating with a different culture learning skill-set. Not only does that reduce the effectiveness of cultural integration, but, more importantly, it lessens the opportunity for the family to experience the growth and connectedness that learning a new culture together can bring.

Here are 5 ways that you can integrate into a new culture as a family:

1. Observe strategically. Observation is one of the primary ways you can learn about a new culture. However, unless you do so strategically, you will miss a considerable amount of information. Because we get comfortable operating in our home society, we often participate without thinking. It is easy to allow yourself to operate in this default mode when you enter a new culture instead of stepping back and taking the time to observe.

Talk with your kids about observing with all of their 5 senses: touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound. Choose one per day to focus on. Perhaps have each family member take turns deciding which sense to focus on for a particular day. All throughout the day, talk about the things you observe with that one sense. For example, all the things you smell throughout that day. You will be surprised by how much more you notice when you focus on only one sense at a time! Hold a family meeting each night to talk about your cultural observations. 

2. Keep an observation journal. As you explore with your 5 senses, keep a family journal of everything you observe. Take it everywhere with you and document every "sight", "touch", etc. each day. If your kids are old enough to write on their own, have them take turns documenting or give them each their own journal. During your family meeting at the end of the day, read through the documented observations.

3. Ask questions. The best way to learn about a new culture is by talking to the people who live there. Many families who move overseas enter into the "expat bubble" and don't interact with the nationals, instead finding other expatriate families to spend their time with. You will never fully integrate into the culture by only spending time with other expatriates who live there and that would be a huge loss for you and your children. Expatriates can only teach the culture of expatriates living in that country, but they will not be able to teach you about the true local culture. It can be intimidating for your children (and maybe you too!) to talk with people from a different culture, so come up with a plan to make it less daunting.

Have each family member come up with one open-ended question that they plan to ask multiple people that day. For example, "What do you like best about your country?" or "Where do you buy your meat?" It can be as practical or as deep as you'd like, but the goal is to see how different people answer your question. Are there common themes? Throughout the day, be looking for people to whom you and your kids can ask your questions. During your nightly family meeting, talk about this experience and the things that you learned.

4. Make national family friends. Again, it can be easy to get caught up in the "expat bubble," particularly if you relocated to the country for business. While it is not wrong and can be quite enriching to have expat friends, developing friendships with nationals is critical to learning the culture. It is equally as important that your new group of national friends include "family friends." By that, I mean friends who have kids roughly the same age as yours and who are in a stage of life similar to yours. These are the friends to whom your family will be able to eventually ask the deeper questions about the values, expectations, and thought patterns of the culture. By spending time with these friends, asking questions, and observing how they interact with each other, their children, wait staff at a restaurant, etc. you will have the opportunity to shadow them and practice learning to act as a family from that culture.

5. Go to the local hangouts. Find out what the nationals do together with their families and do it! Do they go to the cinema? Are there local museums? Parks? Do they shop at the market as a family? Go to the beach? Bike around town? Instead of being tempted to check out all of the tourist destinations, make it a point to spend your family free time the way that the nationals do. Not only will this teach you about the culture, but it is also a great way to make friends!

It is entirely possibly to live overseas and never integrate into the culture. Doing so would not only make you less effective in your work or ministry with the nationals, but it would be giving up an incredible opportunity that you and your children have to embrace a new way of life and learn to see the world from a different perspective. If you are planning to move overseas with your family, consider taking one of WorldView's culture-learning trainings for intensive, hands-on preparation for the whole family. Our teen and children's trainings parallel our adult trainings so that the family can practice their new culture-learning skills together. Every member of the family has the ability to contribute to the culture-learning experience, they just need the skill-set to do so!