What is the meaning of immersion?
The immersion experience is an important part of Skilled Impact placements. Whether you are completing an internship, elective or a professional placement, the international experience of volunteering abroad along with cultural exchange, offer opportunities for informal learning that no classroom or office could teach you.
Cultural immersion can include learning about: language, culture, beliefs, traditions, religion, art, business practices and the history of a country and it’s people. It is not just about traveling and viewing things as an outsider or learning just through organised cultural experiences. Culture runs deeply into the fabric of a country and it’s people which means that you need to scratch beneath the surface. As a volunteer living and working in a new country, you get to live and understand the culture that will become part of your everyday life. You start building relationships with people from different backgrounds, and get to understand local traditions and cultural norms. In a nutshell, immersing yourself means experiencing life like a local.
Benefits of Cultural Immersion
Cultural immersion is an incredible part of skilled volunteering. As your main focus is supporting a local partner in making a difference and collaborating with local staff, you automatically pick up on the underlying cultural norms of professional and personal life. But that requires observation, asking questions and the desire to learn.
For example in India, you might mistake the head-wobble for a ‘no’ or become confused by the difference in boundaries for personal space. Cross cultural communication issues have blurred relations between people from different cultural backgrounds for centuries. And with globalisation becoming a natural part of life, overcoming cross cultural communication barriers becomes more and more important.
How do you avoid miscommunication between different cultures? By putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. And that only happens through experiential learning, when you immerse yourself in a new country and culture, learn about customs and traditions, and understand the ‘Why’ behind people’s behaviours and actions.
Cultural immersion whilst volunteering abroad helps you to become a global citizen, one that is able to understand aspects of cross cultural communication and cultural awareness.
Cultural Immersion Activities and Experiences
On top of developing your professional skills, you’ll also get to experience the wonders of learning about a different country and it’s people, try the local cuisine, and visit some of the most beautiful places in the world.
Joining one of Skilled Impact’s volunteering opportunities is a great way to immerse yourself in a new country and culture. In general, cultural immersion happens in three areas of your volunteer experience: when working, when living daily life and when travelling.
Whilst traveling can be an eye opening and fun experience, cultural immersion goes far beyond that. As a tourist, you may not get the opportunity to truly learn about cultural norms – the invisible ‘rules’ that might determine the personal and professional lives of local people, and how they behave and interact with each other. As part of your volunteer experience, however, you will get this opportunity to learn. Collaborating with local staff in a professional environment, you will develop your cross cultural communication strategies and get a deeper insight into (sometimes sensitive) societal issues, such as gender roles or family hierarchies.
Living Like a Local
Informal learning also takes place during daily life, when you are not volunteering with your partner organisation. Living in local accommodation and interacting with people from your neighborhood helps you to immerse in your local community. Simply figuring out the public transport system, or getting invited to your neighbour’s wedding enriches your experience and provides you with great insights into the culture, customs and traditions of your host country. So we advise you to stay open minded, be curious, ask questions and talk to people – soon enough you’ll be feeling right at home.
During your volunteer placements, you’ll have free time for weekend adventure trips. This gives you the chance to explore some of the most beautiful corners of your host country, do some sightseeing, meet new people, and try local dishes. If you have more time available, you can add travel time before or after your volunteer work.