6 Tips for Being Culturally Sensitive While Traveling

Written by Thomson Safaris

For many, the chance to have meaningful cultural interactions is the highlight of an international trip, and it’s something our guests love most about going on safari in Tanzania. To sit in a classroom filled with Swahili speaking children who are trying out their English; to visit a Maasai woman’s home and stir Ugali with her; to talk to your guide about how he met his wife – these are the gifts of traveling. Language barriers can make it challenging to communicate, but there are still plenty of ways to have rich interactions. Here are a few suggestions to help you:

1. Be informed about the culture you are visiting

The first step to being culturally sensitive is to know as much as you can about the culture you are visiting: what are their customs; their values; their religion; their social structure? There are more than 120 different ethnic groups in Tanzania, each with their own dialect, and statesman Julius Nyerere dedicated his career to uniting them. Learning more facts like these help you get a better sense of what to expect abroad.

2. Be informed about your own culture

It’s just as important to examine your own culture, customs, and history in order to be culturally sensitive. Think about your own set of values so you have an idea of the lens you are using as you meet other people. For example, how does your culture view polygamy and why? How does it view the equality or inequality of men and women? Your culture may use strollers for children, but why not wraps or Kangas? Investigating the beliefs you’ve grown up with can make you more accepting of other customs.

3. Embrace differences

One of the best parts of traveling is being exposed to cultures that are completely different from your own. It encourages you to keep an open mind and let go of stereotypes and generalizations. By embracing differences, the world around us is less fearful and intimidating, and far more inviting and interesting.

4. See through the eyes of a child

Young children are some of the best teachers of cultural sensitivity. If you watch young children, who don’t carry preconceived stereotypes of others, you will note that although they’re shy at the start of meeting new people, once they begin the interaction, they totally embrace each other. Take this same approach with the local people, and you might be surprised what you can learn.

5. Believe in the best in everyone

Trust that people are good. Perhaps a bit Pollyannaish, but a large dose of optimism will often enhance your experience with people who are different than you. People will usually reciprocate the openness and trust that you bestow on them.

6. Be kind and empathetic

Kindness and empathy are well understood all around the world. A smile, the use of a cultural gesture of theirs, an openness to being together, or a welcoming or thoughtful gesture will be understood as just that: kindness. Try to put yourself in the shoes of those you are visiting. Understand the culture, the history and hardships, the laughter of the local people, and you’ll be able to make meaningful connections and lasting memories.