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Volunteering & Cultural Norms

When volunteering abroad, you will come in contact with cultural norms that may be different to what you’re used to.

For example, the way you dress and behave may be interpreted differently than it is at home. The organisation you will join for your placement will likely have specific guidance on things  to consider.


Research where the communities you will work with have come from and what challenges and conflicts they may have fled from.

Speak to people, check how they are doing, be supportive.

You may need to adapt the way you greet people - a smile or a nod are the best

way to start.

Don't hug/kiss/

shake hands with

people you do not know well. Avoiding physical contact and overt affection is a good general rule of intercultural            communication.

Don't be disrespectful, and engage in conflict with local authorities and communities. While you may find their ways disagreeable, causing issues is damaging to the project you volunteer for.

Research the location you will visit, learn more about the local population and learn basic phrases.

Don't initiate conversations about  someone's journey to Europe,  their home country, or their  loved ones - it may trigger traumatic memories

If somebody chooses to share their story, however, listen.

Perform the tasks assigned to you with great care.

Don't offer legal,

financial and/or medical

advice if you are not qualified

or trained to provide such information.

Ask the organisation for referral

pathways to experts so people can

access the advice they need.

Don't make promises and offer unrealistic support to service users! The asylum process 

is confusing and stressful - people are

under a lot of pressure and setting

expectations for something you

cannot deliver is unfair and

damaging to all parties.

Don't neglect reading the

charity's dress code policy. For example,

shorts may be comfortable during high temperatures  but not appropriate

when working in a camp.

Wear clothes that are both comfortable and culturally appropriate.

Did you learn something surprising?
Have you had a personal experience on cultural difference?
Do you have a question for other volunteers?

Share in the Volunteer Forum

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