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Cultural Stereotypes and Cultural Sensitivity

Cultural Stereotypes and Cultural Sensitivity | ITTT | TEFL Blog

For many people who travel, considering the cultural norms of whatever country you are visiting helps ensure a smooth trip.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Ryan A. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.


It is quite unfortunate that travellers from the United States often have a bad reputation for being loud, inconsiderate, and oblivious. While this is the case, it is also the case for a lot of people from various other countries. Being a well-behaved visitor is not restricted to your region of origin, but is a voluntary path. Do not let other countries’ stereotypical ideas of you define how you act when travelling abroad.

There are various ways to prove these people wrong, and that comes with research, asking questions, and being observant. As an educator in another country, these same methods apply to you but on a higher calibre. You will be responsible for a group of students, no matter the age, which means that what you say and how you say it can affect this group. As I prepare for my upcoming trip to Nepal I am considering my experience there, as well as researching the proper customs to be aware of.

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Basic Manners in Different Countries

This particular TEFL course can’t give you exact answers on how to act in every country, but it does provide extremely helpful advice on how to go about researching. First of all, it is best to learn as much as you can about the country as a whole. Read about the history, and how the population may be distributed. This includes what percentages of the population speak what language, and what religions are dominant.

Taking note of stereotypes is important because what you find normal can be misunderstood as a way to mock another person. You may have a diverse group of students in your class, which means that you have to go to lengths to make sure all people feel welcomed and not alienated. Learning about this information is also helpful when you have to act as the “police” role of an educator. If there was any teasing between students, you could understand the situation and approach with clarity.

Also Read: Different Rules of Etiquette in European Countries

First Impression

To make good first impressions, you should know the proper greetings and use them when introducing yourself to anyone. Not only will you be polite, but this will help you gain respect from your fellow educators and more importantly your students. I also believe that learning slang or common language can help you feel approachable by students. These would be things you could show interest in when the class has warmed up to you. They might notice your curiosity and not see you as a robot programmed to strictly carry out lesson plans. However, until you’ve built a strong relationship with the people you’re surrounded by, it is best to choose a more conservative approach to what you talk about and how you do it. Even if you feel close with your students and peers, being modest may be the common behaviour that you have to adopt.

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Rapport and Relationships

As you build relationships with your students, you become comfortable with them enough where you’re true personality may start to show. For some people, this involves their sense of humour, but what they must understand is that what is funny in your home country may not be received the same way. Jokes may not land how you thought, and even worse they may offend someone. It is best not to joke about any staff to your students behind their backs. This is advice for any teacher, whether in your country or not. This TEFL course also pointed out that sarcasm is something that some countries do not use at all, and will be greatly misinterpreted. As someone who uses humour often, especially when teaching, I will try not to feel like a part of me is being suppressed. Instead, I take this as a challenge to make people laugh while still respecting the culture I am immersed in.

Also Read: Top Tips for Teaching in English-Speaking Countries | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Correct Speech

This course also taught a theory that could be used in teaching negotiating, questioning, and making requests. The Speech Act Theory categorizes levels of speech into categories that increase in situational complexity. It ranges from the utterance, which is a word or phrase said by reflex, to the perlocutionary utterance, which is speech intended for a response. Extraordinarily, this theory may help overcome any cross-cultural issues that sometimes occur when trying to directly translate from one language to another. A student may offend a teacher, or vice versa if the knowledge about these levels of speech is not touched on. Educate your students what can be said to invoke a response, and what may be an observation that can be kept to one’s self.

Also Read: Teacher’s Motivation Strategies

My Personal Experience

During my last visit to Nepal, I was so concerned with offending the locals. When in doubt, look around you and try to do what everyone else seems to be doing (or not doing). If I can teach when I return there, I already know some of the customer knowledge that will help me keep a respectful relationship with the staff and students of the girls’ school. Always exchange money, or take food, with your right hand because the left is meant to clean yourself after the bathroom.

Dressing modestly is common in Nepal, and keeping up with your grooming will gain you more respect than if you look unkempt. For the most part, the people of Nepal are tolerant of tourism, but that won’t keep me from always asking how I can be a better visitor.

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