Cross-Cultural Trainings: Some Tips

These are a few tips from Training for Change’s experience leading trainings across different cultures. This list emerged from workshops and reflections from our trainers working in Thailand, Russia, and the Balkans in the 1990s to train a generation of activist trainers.

Suggestions to maximize the value of training across cultural lines:

  • Observe the group closely, including during breaks and sessions to learn about the dynamics within the group
  • Discuss with your co-facilitator and others to integrate lessons into your design
  • Understand your job to be facilitating the emergence of the wisdom of the participants, rather than parading your knowledge
  • Acknowledge your lack of expertise in their culture and the details of their situation
  • Acknowledge what you do in your own setting — what your political activities are like “back home”
  • Tell your own story in the beginning and use other ways of beginning events that make sense in the host culture
  • Modeling — be very aware of how powerful your example may be and what you are teaching by it
  • Trust-building may require another activity besides training
  • Be patient with yourself, your co-facilitators, and your participants
  • Evaluate what is working and be willing to change your agenda to match that
  • Take the time to listen to others’ stories
  • Identify your own confusion and puzzles, and use those times to ask for more information and amplify your role as a learner
  • Expect that you’ll make mistakes and forgive yourself
  • Learn basics ahead of time when possible: attitude toward time/punctuality, body language, clothing, use of voice
  • Be aware of your own gender, race, class, etc. and possible dynamics that could emerge
  • Be aware of self, for example what is stressful for you in new/culturally different situations
  • Listen in hot political situations rather than express your own opinion
  • Check with hosts about security concerns for local people, and do not ask to know more than you need to know to do your work if security is an issue for them
  • Be aware of local attitudes toward power-holders
  • Be flexible
  • Teach out of your own experience rather than out of “textbook,” humbly
  • Listen to jokes for underlying content, diagnostic clues
  • Participate in “extracurricular cultural activities” happening around the workshop rather than restricting interaction to “the training,” but be sensitive to whether you’re invited
  • Doing humor at your own expense (making fun of yourself) often works well
  • Take time, be willing to exclude or shorten activities to pace with the group and not feel rushed

Some things we might do to minimize the value of training across cultural lines:

  • Be dependent on one source for your information
  • Be an expert knowledge-giver
  • Press a concept against big emotional resistance
  • Push feminist, anti-racist or other agenda that may be not locally connected or supported (especially when your agenda is couched in your language and experience, not those of the people you are working with)
  • Be ignorant of the history of oppression
  • Play expert on their society
  • Take personally the anger directed toward your group/nation
  • Be unclear about what your goals are and the time frame required to achieve them (time frame can be especially difficult to estimate in cultures that are not your own)
  • Try to find out more than you need to know
  • Make assumptions
  • Comprise monocultural facilitator teams
  • Be rigid and inflexible, even with this list, for example
  • Spend your time as facilitator enforcing how others should treat each other
  • Give up
  • Fail to do a careful needs assessment
  • Not be completely upfront about what you want to do
  • Be dishonest about self-identification
  • Make everything about you
  • Expect what happened in the last workshop in this culture to happen in this one (making premature generalizations)

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