SLV.Global Adhering to Cultural Norms Abroad
SLV.Global puts the safety of our volunteers as our highest priority. We would like to make you aware of some of the cultural and societal norms, which may differ from your own country, before you depart for your placement and you can read our blog here for further advice regarding safety during your placement.
The SLV.Global team always rely on the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, travel safety website for up-to-date information about travel abroad and, of course, we have lots of local knowledge gleaned from our nearly seven years of experience, sending over 5000 volunteers to Sri Lanka, Bali and India.
Society: In Asia, many societal constructs are patriarchal, with the countries where we work not being exceptions. What this means is that more traditionally a woman’s role is focused within the home. High importance is placed on marriage and having children and relationships between men and women, even within a marriage, are conducted differently from those in a Western culture.
Physical Contact: It is often uncommon to see physical affection towards the opposite sex, especially in public. For example, in Sri Lanka, it would be very rare to see a man and a woman holding hands or hugging, even if they are wed, within the areas where we work. We ask volunteers to not be tactile in public, even when interactions do not seem to be sexual in nature to you. For example, a female touching a man's head would be viewed as a sexual advance in Sri Lanka.
Clothing: In the cultural confines of our placements women and men are expected to dress more conservatively, and traditional dress in all of the cultures where we work shows minimal flesh. We expect volunteers, whether they are male or female, to abide by the cultural norms of the country and have their upper arms covered and wear long trousers, or skirts, while working on projects and when in the homestay village community.
Harassment: We think it’s important to mention that the majority of men are very respectful and do not condone harassment. However, sexual harassment does occur and we want you to be as knowledgeable and prepared as possible before you depart for your placement.
Women, and occasionally men, may experience unwanted attention and sexual harassment from men when they are tourists or working in foreign countries. However, harassment from men is more prominent in countries where there is often inequality between the sexes, which includes the countries where we work.
Public Transport: The SLV.Global team travel to projects using the public bus system. These buses are often overcrowded and volunteers are required to travel in groups and to stand or sit with each other. At weekends volunteers are responsible for their own travel arrangements however SLV.Global strongly discourage volunteers from getting the government buses for long distance journeys and we recommend you opt for the private companies where everyone is given a seat.
Constant Questions: Westerners in Sri Lanka and India naturally attract attention and tourists may be asked many questions whilst out and about such as, "where are you going?" Or, "what is your country?" These are harmless questions and often people are just curious. We find the best thing to do is to answer the person and keep moving.
Potential for Miscommunication: Seemingly harmless gestures such as putting an arm around someone of the opposite sex can be interpreted differently across cultural divides. In many countries some men will assume that being friendly is flirting. Friends in Sri Lanka do not hug or kiss each other as greetings. Therefore, to not create any misunderstanding within the local community it is wise to avoid any tactile gestures.
Eye contact is often considered an invitation to engage, so if someone is making eye contact with you and you stare back, often they won't look away and they may see it as an invitation to speak with you or touch you.
Drinking and Smoking in Public: We ask our volunteers not to drink at all during the week or to buy alcohol from shops in their local area. In the cultures of the countries where we are working drinking alcohol has different implications than in the West. There have been reports of tourists in the beach bars having their drinks spiked (FCO. 2016) it is recommended not to accept alcoholic drinks from locals.
Smoking also has very different cultural implications. It’s illegal to smoke in public, and again, female smokers are rarely seen and smoking on the street or in public may send a different message than it would at home.
We want everyone to be as prepared as possible for their placement, so please take the time to do your own research and check our blog here for more safety advice. If you are at all concerned and would like to speak to a member of the SLV.Global team before you depart please do not hesitate to call or get in touch via email. Every member of the UK team has volunteered with SLV.Global and will be able to discuss their experiences with you personally. Please contact us in SLV.Global London Head Office: on +442070961718 or from the USA and Canada 1-800-532-4168 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.