- Africa is a land of 54 countries and many cultural-religious heritages. Many differences exist between north Africa and sub-Saharan African cultures, so it is best to learn from students the specifics of their cultural heritage.
- In developing a relationship with African students, it is important to remember that they are primarily event-oriented (versus time-oriented). The present is more important than the future. Enjoying the relationship with the person you are with now is more important than meeting the person you have an appointment with an hour from now. Relationships are tremendously important. So, don’t be offended by no-shows when you are to meet up.
- Hospitality is very important in a relational culture. It shows you care. Often hospitality also includes protection while under your roof.
- Decision-making and achievement are mostly on the individual, but some cultural groups (especially if more tribal identity) are more consensus-based (collectivist).
- When invited to an African home, always bring flowers or candy. But other than a hostess gift, gift-giving is done between friends (and may be perceived as a bribe if no relationship exists). Some groups decline accepting a gift until it is offered the third time (so as not to appear greedy). Graciously accept a gift with both hands.
- Be careful to showing the soles of your feet to someone. It is considered very rude.
- Beckoning someone is done with the hand extended, palm down, and a scooping motion (as in much of the world). To point at something, use your chin.
- Silence in a conversation is golden. Do not be surprised at silence. Enjoy it.
- Do not show your displeasure or anger publicly. Positive attitude is critical and showing your frustration or displeasure at someone will shame them.
- Personal space is very small, and another person may sit right next to you when there is plenty of room in other places in the room. When this happens, remember to be positive and flexible.
- The cultural heritage of Africa is rich. Enjoy learning from the students you are with. You will be blessed because you took the time as an American.
Principles cited in this blog: Many dos and don’ts to remember in order to be thoughtful.
Application for ISI ministry: We desire to be winsome and thoughtful to our guests from other countries. Learning a few small customs can make a big difference!
Next blog topic: Being thoughtful to students from Central and South America
Doug Shaw with Derrah Jackson