Respect is a concept that is characterized or determined by feelings and actions. The feelings and actions that result in respectful behaviour possess an important causal relationship. A sentiment of respect is dependent on another person or entity’s actions while acting respectful is dependent on a person’s feelings, or what they perceive as respectful. The act of “being respectful,” however, is not so simple. The seemingly infinite number of cultural determinants (i.e. ethics and norms) makes “respect” a challenging goal to achieve. The cultural ethics and norms that embody each and every individual are magnified, and many times, conflicting when foreign cultures come in contact. In other words, varying perceptions of what is respectful and what is not produce unavoidable cultural disparities. Despite their unavoidability, these disparities can be bridged through observational learning and subsequent understanding of the ethics and norms that exemplify respect. With that said, it is extremely important to learn what is considered to be respectful not only in another culture but also among the people you travel with.
Travelling with a Group
Prior to arriving at a foreign destination, it is important to understand that the group you travel with is representative of the country you come from and the institution you are a part of. Each individual must also realize that his or her actions, whether beneficial or detrimental, impact the entire group. Therefore, in order for the group to emanate respect, it is essential that the individual keep the reputation of his or her group in mind. Many times, the group that the individual is travelling with will have set a series of guidelines that dictates group ideologies. It is important to attempt to adhere to the ideologies in order for the group to work together properly and in turn, show respect toward the foreign culture. Although it is important for group members to maintain the reputation of their group, being respectful of fellow group members is equally, if not more important. There will be occasions when group dynamics go awry. Rather than letting tensions between group members fester, it is important for the group to appoint a figure that is able to mediate group members’ problems in a sensitive and thoughtful manner. In order to avoid tensions between group members, it is also important to realize that personal sacrifices must be made for the benefit of the group as a whole.
A strategy that can be used when travelling with a group is to create a set of guiding principles for the trip. Before I traveled to Kenya with a group of 17 we sat down and made a list of all the important behaviours, attitudes, and actions everyone was expected to uphold while we were travelling. Halfway through the trip we relooked at the guiding principles to remind us of the way to conduct ourselves with one another, on the ground and in different cultures. It is important that everyone in your group is on the same page about the expectations of the group and the group members.
It is also important, as a member of a group, to remember that people see the world through different lenses, and each individual will have reactions and interpretations of situations that may not correspond with one another. This can serve as a challenge to a group because when each person believes themselves to be right, they can become unwilling to see another’s view. Their minds can become hard and closed off and learning becomes difficult. When travelling in another culture, it is essential to maintain an open mind, as one is constantly faced with new and unusual perspectives, customs, and people. But it is important to maintain the same open mind when working with the group you travel with. Though the group may come from similar backgrounds and a similar place, perspectives, customs, and people vary immensely within any dynamic group of human beings, even if that group is a closely-knit family. Learning the strengths and weaknesses of your group members can serve as a highly useful tool to assess the most effective ways your group can function as a team without stepping on each other’s toes.
These various lenses through which people see the world can also prove useful to look out for each other. During our time in Kenya, there were fairly strict guidelines for our wardrobe. Modesty was very important in the area we were staying in and if any of us were unsure of our outfit, we asked a team member what they thought, knowing that someone else may have a more objective interpretation. On multiple occasions, outfits were changed because an outside eye was able to see that the dress choice did not quite fit the guidelines. We were also supposed to be very careful about putting our feet on the furniture, but many of us had a habit of pulling one foot up underneath us when we sat down. I was guilty of this many times but often was hardly aware that I had done it. We decided to make a code-word to say whenever we saw someone with their feet on the furniture, so as to call them out gently. We needed each other’s help to be able to properly respect the culture in which we were guests.
The common behaviour patterns of certain groups are the result of deeply ingrained cultural norms. These norms are so deeply ingrained into the daily life of each individual that it is difficult to be aware of their existence. An individual’s unfamiliarity with his or her own cultural norms may result in challenging circumstances when visiting foreign cultures. Understanding one’s own cultural norms, however, is impossible without the acquisition of a secondary cultural perspective. In other words, it is impossible to discover differences between cultural norms without having at least some understanding of a foreign culture. Therefore, the concept of cultural norms is based purely on an individual’s unique perspective of the foreign culture relative to their own culture. For this reason, learning processes highlighted by research and first-hand interaction are the most efficient ways to understand cultural norms. Once a basic knowledge of a foreign culture’s norms is understood, it is possible for the traveller to act according to these norms. It is important for a traveller to act according to the norms of the culture he or she is visiting because it is considered respectful. It is important to note, however, that a traveller does not need to adopt the unique behaviour patterns of a foreign culture. Rather, the traveller should base their actions on whether or not they conflict with cultural norms. If the actions are conflicting, the traveller must stop and think about how and why their actions are disrespectful. When travelling to a foreign country, cultural norms will undoubtedly clash. The result of these cultural clashes will be intense learning experiences that will ultimately help the traveller become a more respectful global citizen.
Despite the fact that it is important to respect cultural norms, a traveller must question whether or not adhering to foreign cultural norms will compromise his or her own, equally important values. This task, however, is extremely difficult. For example, some cultures do not allow women to dress in a revealing way. Should a female traveller adhere to this norm while contradicting her value of women’s equality? Similar examples manifest in many cross-cultural encounters and there may not be any clear solution. It is the traveller’s responsibility to solve this moral dilemma. Therefore, at the risk of compromising one’s own beliefs, sometimes it is necessary to disrespect in order to gain respect.
In Kenya, it is a cultural norm to be closer and to have a more tangible and touchy relationship with people. In the US, your personal bubble and personal space are usually of high importance to an individual. When one student, in particular, went to Kenya, she struggled at first when older men and really young girls came up to dance with her. People throughout the village would also come up to her and hold her hand. After getting acquainted with some of the cultures after a couple of short weeks, she became aware of how much closer Kenya’s culture was when it came to personal space. She did not necessarily feel the need to adapt to this behaviour, but she gained respect for it and did not question people’s intentions. It is important to be aware of cultural norms in a foreign country and respect their culture regardless of whether or not it crashes with one’s own believes.
While experiencing a foreign culture it is important to respect the beliefs and norms that define it. During my time in Kenya, I was awed by the astonishing amount of generosity, compassion, and hospitality that defined Kenyan culture. As a visitor in Kenya, I initially accepted any manifestation of these cultural virtues in an attempt to be respectful. One evening I, along with another student, was invited into the house of a primary school teacher. The door creaked and swung precariously as we entered the home. When we entered, the only light that allowed us to see came from a single, dimly lit candle. We were told to sit down while the teacher began to rummage through a haphazardly assembled tower of kitchenware. Once she found the teakettle, she began preparing tea. As the milk boiled, the teacher was ecstatic and told us how happy she was that we were there. Her extraordinary kindness and compassion were puzzling because we were so recently introduced. I had never experienced anything like it. A few minutes passed and the tea was ready. She poured us some tea and placed a pile of fried bread on the table. I felt guilty accepting all that she had offered because I, the privileged American, took from an impoverished, single mother and gave nothing in return. I wondered whether or not I should decline what she had offered but came to the realization that our presence was what we gave in return. I am sure that she will remember that night for the rest of her life. I learned that material goods do not have to be reciprocally exchanged. Intangible gifts such as one’s presence are just as, if not more important than any material gift I could have given.
What is the appropriate way to dress?
There is no simple answer to this question because it varies so much. It is important that when you travel abroad you take into consideration both where you are going and who you are going with. It is also important to research the dress and understand what is or isn’t appropriate. There are several ways of doing this, by both trying to find people that have gone there and research online. If you are going with a particular group to study abroad, the leader of the program will notify you. This is very important because you do not want to disrespect their culture or make Americans look bad. Showing respect means that you dress up to the level of the place or people you are visiting, even if there is no formal dress code that is obvious. In some places, the way people dress is a large part of both their culture and customs. There are many different ways of dressing, so it is important that you know, and understand what is socially acceptable. One example is to dress and behave conservatively. This is often the case in less developed countries. If you are travelling to a country where $100 represents a month’s salary, it is simply a bad idea to flaunt your wealth. Wearing expensive clothing and jewellery makes you attractive to the local criminal and may make them feel less of themselves. Specific and in-depth analysis and advice of the dress code can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dress_code.
It’s okay to let go of the way you dress when in another culture. You have to recognize that you are in a place that does not share your culture and social norms are different everywhere. We are also students coming from America, a place that is regarded to be the wealthiest place in the world. They already think we are all incredibly wealthy, we must be additionally mindful that what we wear is a testament to what we can afford.
At Ombogo Girls Academy the girls are required to wear a school uniform and keep their hair short. The girls like this uniformity because it promotes unity and puts all of them on the same playing field. In Kochia there is a lot of poverty and the type of clothes the girls wear to school is a way of displaying their family’s financial status.
Alcohol and Drugs
What do you do about alcohol and drugs while travelling?
Alcohol: This is a very serious issue for students travelling abroad. It is very important to follow the laws and regulations for every country you are visiting. Every year many students are arrested abroad for drug and alcohol use due to ignorance and lack of awareness. As far as alcohol goes, always avoid underage drinking. Many issues such as arrests, accidents, rape, and violent crimes occur due to excessive alcohol consumption. Driving under the influence and public drinking are often considered the criminal activity. Drinking at times is appropriate and culturally acceptable you just need to use discretion. Binge drinking, however, is not only dangerous, especially in an unfamiliar setting, but also sets a poor example of one’s country to the rest of the world. With intoxication tends to come an increase in volume and a decrease in inhibition, composure, and awareness of one’s surroundings. While it may be new and exciting (especially for high school and college students) to have access to alcohol in a foreign country, it is essential that drinking in moderation in order to maintain a positive reputation of the country one represents.
Drug charges can carry severe consequences, including being jailed up to a year without the opportunity for bail, or the case is tried. Some crimes in some places are punished by physical abuse, fines, jail time, years of hard labour and sometimes even death. Not just drug possession, but like in the U.S contraband and paraphernalia can also get you in trouble.
One of the problems with drugs is that people take to have prescription medication that they need to take. Make sure that the mediation you are taking is not an illegal narcotic because that could be a very significant charge if you are caught. It is important that you always carry a letter from a health care professional explaining your condition and your need for medication. Any medications that you carry overseas should be in the original container, showing that a doctor prescribed it. Check with the foreign countries embassy to double-check the medications are not considered an illegal narcotic. There is a listing of these on the Department of states website. http://www.state.gov/
1. Cameras & Taking respectful pictures
-be respecful and careful with flashes and pay attention to when you are taking a picture with a flash and if it could be respectful or disrespectful
-Check your intentions for taking pictures first.
-Ask yourself these questions: Why am I taking this picture? For what purpose will I use this picture for after I return home (for good or bad)? What is this picture saying about the people or images in it? Does it tell a story & will I explain/ understand/honor & respect that story?
-Get permission from traveling partners to take pictures of them as well before taking a picture.
-If you use the pictures from your trip for any publishing or for purposes of showing others outside of the travel group make sure that the people in those images are okay with that and respected. http://www.netplaces.com/photography/photographing-events/why-are-you-here.htm
Throughout my past experiences abroad, I never thought about how photography could bring about negative consequences for both the photographer as well as the subject. In short, I was careless when it came to taking pictures. Prior to my trip to Kenya, I was told about the consequences of careless and excessive camera use. More specifically, I was told about the importance of asking permission to take a subject’s photograph. In addition, I looked back on my past experiences and became conscious of the fact that constantly looking through the lens of a camera detracts from the overall experience. My enlightened perspective on photography instigated a new set of guidelines that I would utilize throughout my time in Kenya. The primary rule that I followed was to ask permission to take photographs. I also made a conscious effort to minimize my camera use in order to maximize my experience. Although I did not return from Kenya with thousands of photographs, I do not regret making these changes in my camera use because my experience in Kenya was enhanced.
2. Camera Safety
Cameras & other Valuable belongings
-keep with you at all times if it is an item you value. sometimes in rural parts of countries that you may travel to expensive technology is not afforded so you could be subject to theft (this could however happen anywhere). Keep valuable belongings in a place that your trust or on your person.
-Depending on the weather some technology may not be good exposed in rain, hail, snow if left laying around damage could be done.
Is it a good time or place for a picture?
-Some times there will be certain environments that are okay and appropriate to take pictures at and other times there won’t be.
-It is best to ask someone who is in charge or a guide if the environment is an appropriate place to take a picture so you don’t offend people.
-Also, it is important to make sure you don’t have on your flash of your camera if you are in a place taking a picture that may disturb the people or natural vibe of the environment.
-FOR EXAMPLE: If someone took a picture in a place of worship depending on the geographical location, many places in the world, this could be seen as a sign of disrespect. If someone is praying or doing a religious ritual and your camera flashes this could distract from the ceremony.
-There will be times when you are challenged about taking a picture and you may have to use your gut instinct about whether or not it is appropriate to take a picture FOR EXAMPLE: if you are invited by guides and peoples of authority to take pictures of and or watch a child delivery but the woman who is giving birth has not been asked for permission is that considered appropriate? Some might argue, yes because we were invited and given permission by the authorities. Others would argue no because the women with less power has not been asked and is there for being disrespected, not honored, or given privacy and a chance to voice her opinion. http://www.ehow.com/how_13136_respectfully-photographs-traveling.html
The Camera and Relationships
It is important to consider how the camera will play into the developments of relationships. When visiting a region that does not have great access to technology, the camera can be a great sign of wealth and potentially be equated with a higher status, therefore creating a gap between the locals and yourself. By using the camera carelessly, it could potentially impact the relationships you strive to build by creating an image of the advantaged, white traveler. During my time in Kochia, Kenya, I found that it was best to only use my camera to take pictures of individuals with whom I had become close with. Having already established deep and mutually beneficial relationships, it felt more natural to be using my camera in those situations. I found that by pulling out my camera among people I did not know as well, particularly youth, the attention immediately became focused on the technology and really detracted from the personal interactions. When we did use our camera, some kids would become so exciting and enthralled with the device that it completely took away from our exange with them. We became “the mzungus (or foreigners) with cameras.” From these instances, I found that taking images should be a way to capture a pre-existing relationship for the sake of remembering the individuals and special moments.
Another helpful tip to remember is that it is never to late to put your camera away and set limits on photo taking. It can become overwhelming in situations where everyone is crowding around to be in the next shot or to see the previous one. It feels like if you take the camera away, people will bother you until you bring it back out. This is not the case, and putting limits on the situation can save the relationships. While in Kenya, some of the female students on our team got the chance to have a sleepover in the dorms at Ombogo Girls Academy with the girls we had been spending time with. I took my camera, but forgot the amount of attention it would get when I pulled it out. The girls and I had a great time taking “snaps” of each other and posing for the camera, but after about ten minutes, I started feeling like the camera was taking over. It was the good time we were having together. So I called out, “Two more pictures,” and when those two were taken, I put it away. No one complained or stopped having a good time, we just found other things to do together.
Camera Etiquette overview:
-don’t take a photograph of anyone in a situation in which you wouldn’t want to be photographed
-allow people to present themselves as they choose
-if at all possible provide people with a copy of the photo this way the memory can be shared by you both. This shows respect for other people.
Displays of Materialism & “Wealth”
-Avoid displaying unnecessary items of value (ex: jewellery, iPod…) Don’t show off items of technology. You never know what the people around have been exposed to. This could also put a rift between the relationships you are trying to form.
-Be careful about the things that you say that could be hurtful to others.
-If offered food, don’t say that it’s nasty or be rude. This is seen as a high disrespect in many parts of the world where food is a luxury and basic needs are not met.
-Please be mindful of wasting whether it be food, water, material items, etc.
-You may visit areas that are more rural than you are used to experiencing. Take these opportunities to learn rather than judge and make assumptions.
-Research the etiquette and customs of the country you are travelling to. The last thing you want to do is offend, disrespect, or unknowingly break a law.
-Engage in the environment around you by getting out of your comfort zone. Even if things are unfamiliar to you. EXAMPLE: Doing laundry in a river with a host family or walking the streets of a market place.
-Live as though you live amongst the people. Blend. You don’t want to create a sense of elitism.
-Practice & learn giving more than you take.
-Be flexible with the unexpected and open-minded towards the new and unknown.
-Sacrifice personal needs for others & group
-Consider the source and sustainability of products you buy/use.
-Bargain fairly and realize that the value of money is different for those with less of it.
-Give/buy gifts that help not hurt.
-Be modest and not too flashy in attire (dress). Refer to “Appropriate Dress”
– Help each other learn how we can make more conscious and responsible decisions.
– Leave all the places that you visit better than we found them.
Respect For Other Cultures
There is a need for a deeper level of respect when travelling to foreign places. Respect for the country and its resources, as well as, respect for the people and their culture. People have different ways to demonstrate respect depending on the country and culture. You must become aware of what is and is not tolerated in a foreign country. It is common for a person to remain wrapped up in their own beliefs and opinions while travelling abroad, which makes it challenging to accept other peoples’ way of life and customs. Close mindedness and bigotry is not the way to go and can be detrimental to your experience and respect for the other culture while abroad. It is important to respect other cultures because there is so much we can learn about other rituals and beliefs. Learning to accept and respect them is a vital step that opens your mind and makes you aware of the world around you and all the unique people in it.
Observing what it means to respect another culture can be quite challenging. You may not speak the language to be able to ask about customs or what is appropriate. And even if you do know the language, or they know yours, a straight answer may not be given to your question. Pay attention to the people around you. What do you notice about the interactions between men and women? How are people dressed? What is and is not done in public that you might be used to? How does the history of the country or area affect their lifestyle? What bothers you about the way other foreigners behave? Thinking and observing the people around you with questions like these in mind will likely land you the most helpful answers. Having a travel guide from the area you are in can also be extremely helpful in learning to respect the culture. Don’t be afraid to ask about things if you are unsure, but also understand that the answer to your questions may not be the whole truth. If for example, the people you are staying with are doing everything they can to accommodate your comfort, they may give you the answer that they believe is what you want, even if it is not the culturally appropriate truth.
Finally, know that you will make mistakes and that you are not alone in making them. Everyone who travels has to learn what it means to respect their surroundings, and it takes time and almost always includes accidental offences. In these situations, you do not need to spend five minutes explaining yourself, but rather do your best to apologize, remember what happened and make sure that you avoid the same mistake in the future. Learning outside of a textbook requires risks.