15 Tips for Building Stronger Cross-cultural Relationships

Do you have a genuine interest in other cultures? Ever want to build a relationship with someone from another culture but not know where to start? With students representing more than 40 different countries, it’s a skill we practice daily here at the ELC!

So after talking with students, teachers, and staff, we formed this list of tips for building authentic relationships with your newest neighbors. Always remember, however, that each culture and person is unique, and specific guidelines will vary by situation.

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    1. Start with your own bias. Be honest with yourself about the stereotypes you hold of another‘s culture, customs, and life experience. We all have them, but through acknowledging them, we can work to overcome them.
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    3. Identify your intentions. Consider why you want to reach out to with this person. Be upfront about your motivations, so that everyone feels safe. Your reasons might be as simple as encouraging community in your neighborhood or believing that it is important for us to take care of each other.
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    5. Smile and say hello. Never underestimate the power of a smile! As Mother Teresa once said, “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”
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    7. Educate yourself. Do your own research to gain some basic insights into another culture (but don’t think it makes you an expert!). Read a novel by an author from that country. Visit a place of worship. Attend a cultural event. Opportunities are endless in today’s connected world.
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    9. Spend time in unfamiliar spaces. We often spend the majority of our time in places and amongst people who are “like us.” Or we invite someone into relationship only on our own terms and turf. Be willing to step outside your own comfort zone and meet others in theirs.
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    11. Don’t tokenize. Never expect one person, especially someone with whom you do not already have a relationship, to represent his or her entire ethnic group, culture, religion, or race. Ask questions only if you sincerely want to hear the answer. It’s not your role to judge someone else’s truth.
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    13. It’s not all about you. Teaching others about our identity can sometimes take significant mental and emotional energy. If someone does choose to teach you, recognize it as a gift. Be sensitive to how much he or she is willing to share; don’t prioritize your learning at another’s expense.
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    15. Don’t appropriate. You may admire a culture that is not your own, but you can never “own” it. Be careful how you participate, especially in matters of spirituality, ritual, and tradition. Let someone from that culture invite you or tell you how you can best honor what is sacred to him or her.
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    17. Learn names with correct pronunciation. Everyone appreciates being known. Make an intentional effort to remember unfamiliar names. Try addressing someone at least three times throughout a conversation to help it stick. Be humble and ask again, if necessary.
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    19. Mange your expectations. Move slowly and understand that you may not experience an immediate bond. Building trust takes time. Create norms together for developing the relationship, rather than assuming that what is right for you is also right for the other person.
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    21. Let children play. Children have a magical way of breaking through language barriers and cultural differences. You may find a starting point for building a relationship with the parents of your child’s friends.
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    23. Share a meal. Food is a huge part of culture, and sharing a meal together almost universally represents and deepens friendship. Wait until you’ve established a base of trust, and be prepared to encounter new foods, etiquette customs, and cultural or religious dietary restrictions.
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    25. Be willing to share yourself. As in any relationship, you must also be willing to give. Put the other person at ease about where you come from and who you are, and he or she may open up in turn.
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    27. Have humility, apologize, and move forward. Despite your best efforts, miscommunications will likely happen. Be patient with yourself, and hear what others have to tell you. No need to walk on eggshells—admit mistakes, apologize, learn, and move forward.
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    29. Be human. Our differences are real and shape how we experience the world. But at our core, we are all human beings with similar needs and desires. Identify the things you share, and remember that we each need the other to reach our full potential.

There you have it! Let us know if you try any of these or have advice of your own. We’d love to hear how things go for you!

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