Cultural immersion experiences

At Kaya, we have a collection of travel memories and anecdotes that could probably fill up a book! Our team is either composed of former volunteers, gappers or international travelers. We all come from different backgrounds and countries, but we all share the love of cultures and travels. So today’s blog is dedicated to cultural Immersion experiences of some of the Kaya Team.

Cultural immersion sometimes leads you to culture shock, but the process helps you learn more societal, cultural and religious norms of the homestay families, project teams, and communities in which you live in. Cultural immersion is defined as the value you get out of integrating a new community and lifestyle, interacting with the local people and understanding their local values and customs, as well as their overall way of life. Many times when you travel abroad and experience cultural immersion, you ask yourself “what is that all about?” or “how did I get myself into that?”…. Well because we believe that cultural immersion is such a huge part of our programs, and have learned to embrace these experiences, we thought we would share some of our stories with you!

Katie, traveled to Nepal – “Waking up at 4 am by a knock at the door from some of my local students asking me to go to the temple with them was probably one of my most memorable experiences from my time in Nepal. They took me to the main village square where I had been many times before but I had no idea that there were so many Hindu and Buddhist temples hidden away in the corners. Being up so early and seeing all the people from my village going about their daily rituals was literally like seeing a completely different side of life in Nepal and I loved it. I felt so included within the community and I could tell that people appreciated my willingness to learn about and include myself within their culture.”

Tom, lived in the Philippines – “I guess winning the Beauty Pageant in the Philippines was unique! They hold beauty pageants all over the country every week so it’s something that’s very Filipino but that most tourists don’t get to get involved with. Another time, I co-hosted a supermodel competition in Tacloban as well!”

Jackie, volunteered to Uganda – “I attended an Introduction which is the equivalent of a huge engagement party when I was in Uganda. I helped my homestay family making presents the day before, wore traditional dress and danced with a basket on my head (a basket of tomatoes was my selection as I thought they were much easier for me to control than the watermelons which were the other option…).  I was really concerned that I was going to make an absolute fool of myself and spoil the event for the family but it was amazing and I will never forget it! It was such a privilege to be included and really helped to understand the importance of the ceremony in family life.

Heilwig, volunteered in Thailand – “We accidentally gatecrashed a Thai funeral and were encouraged to stay as it was considered such a great honor to the deceased to have foreign attendees. The family thanked us for the honor we brought them!”

Ariel, traveled to Peru – “I stayed with a rural community in the Amazon rainforest. I got particularly sick from the altitude, mosquitos, and heat, and was so far from a hospital that the community treated me themselves. They prepared an organic drink with herbs and plants, and used a medicinal salve, and kept calling me ‘Que Blanquita!” (Little white girl). I was shocked by how willing they were to help me, and kept checking up on me for the next few days.”

Julie, volunteered in Zambia – “I had the opportunity to volunteer on a health placement and help weight babies and children to make sure they were growing properly and getting the nutrition they needed. It was amusing that some of the local mothers wouldn’t trust the digital scale, and only wanted their babies to be hanging from what I would call a “swing scale”, which would make most of the babies scream their lungs out!”

Christina, lived in Peru – “In Cusco, my host family had me be part of their Mother Earth ritual. I had to eat coca leaves and make wishes on the leaves. Then a shaman repeated my wishes in Quechua. Later on, the family had to make a sacrifice to the earth, which included burning vanilla snack cookies and burying them in the dirt of the garage.”

Martina, lived in Cambodia – “In Cambodia I took part in the 100th day anniversary of a funeral – the body of the deceased would at this stage travel further to the other world, after having wandered on earth from the day of the death – and I helped the local women making rice cakes garnished with bananas and legumes. All wrapped in banana leaves! They at first were all laughing at my questionable wrapping skills, however, after a while, I became so fast and precise that I was also teaching the kids who joined us in the fun! It was such a lovely way to immerse myself in this aspect of the Khmer culture and learn also some new cooking skills ;)”

Without a doubt, we have all had such amazing experiences and have been privileged to be welcomed into people’s personal celebrations and lives. We are sure that many of our programs participants have had similar experiences and we always love to hear all about them – as well as having more cultural adventures of our own!

Please comment on some fun cultural immersion experiences you had!