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 goals, that 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!