At some point on your trip you will encounter a situation that is completely foreign and awkward (food, language, local traditions, behavior, hygiene practices). Your reaction to the foreign and awkward will either allow you to gain a greater appreciation for the diversity of this world or cause conflict and discomfort while limiting your ability to listen to God during your trip. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Your comfort zone might be challenged but with a humble heart and desire to learn, God will be able to show and teach you some incredible things while on your trip.
Be aware and sensitive to what the locals are doing and follow their lead. Do they remove their shoes before entering buildings? How do they greet each other? Do they sit on the floor? Eat with their hands? Be careful what you ask of your hosts – many cultures will go out of their way to make sure you, as their guests, are comfortable; even if it means scrambling behind the scenes to fulfill a spoken request. If you are eating dinner and there are no forks, napkins or similar “familiar” item, avoid asking for one as it may not be something they use in their culture. Your in-country hosts will be excited to share their culture with you. Feel free to ask them questions with respect and a desire to learn.
Avoid nationality jokes and unnecessary generalizations which can cause hurt feelings and create disunity (i.e., Americans are always loud, Italians always wave their hands). Sensitivity, kindness, and respect will make a big difference. Be cautious if someone wants to discuss political issues. Many non-US citizens have a strong opinion about US foreign policy and sometimes political discussions can cause dissention or become a distraction.
Attitudes toward alcohol and smoking vary from culture to culture. In some countries, your salvation may be questioned if you drink. However, there are some countries (i.e., France and Germany) where believers do drink alcohol in moderation. Certain things which may be considered “sinful” in one culture may be acceptable in another.
Please be tolerant and avoid a judgmental attitude when facing issues with which you do not agree (Matt 7:1-5).
If you have never been in another country or culture before, you will find things to be different from the way they are in America. The book Foreign to Familiar by Sarah Lanier will greatly aid your understanding of different cultures.