Cultural Awareness Activities for Mission Trips

Planning a cross-cultural mission experience? These cultural awareness activities can help your group prepare to encounter cultural differences thoughtfully and respectfully. These activities work best in diverse groups, so if your group is very similar in age, race, gender, etc., consider inviting other community members to join you in learning about cultural awareness.

Activity 1: Examine the Room

With a partner, take a close look at the room where you are gathered. Notice where people are sitting. What spaces are left empty? How close are people to each other? Who sat next to whom? What things did people bring with them? Who is wearing what?

Write down all the things you observe on the left side of a piece of paper. On the right side of the paper, write down your interpretations of these observations. (Examples: Susie brought paper with her today so she could take notes. Jim wore jeans, so it must be cold outside.

Compare and reflect as a group on your observations and interpretations. Point out that the left column includes straightforward facts while the statements in the right column are assumptions and are much more subjective in nature. How many of your interpretations were incorrect?

Takeaway: Even when we are comfortable with our surroundings, our interpretations can still be subject to error. In a different culture, it is even easier to make mistakes and incorrect assumptions.

Activity 2: The Universal Circle

Gather everyone in a circle. Go around the circle and have each person say something about their home or church background that starts with “When I was growing up…”

Examples: When I was growing up…

…my parents taught me to respect my elders.
…if I got in a fight with my sibling, my parents taught us to talk out the problem. 
…I learned at church that God would punish me for my sins.
…I had to be quiet during church services. 

Ask participants to take a step toward the center of the circle each time a statement applies to them. If everyone or almost everyone steps toward the center of the circle after a statement, the statement might be universal. That means it may not be specific to a certain culture. If only a few people step forward, the statement may apply only to a particular culture. A facilitator should record whether each statement is cultural or universal. 

Afterward, discuss what makes some statements universal and others cultural. Talk about what cultures may be represented in your group based on the exercise. For example, you may have some group members from a Christian school background and some from a public school background. 

Explore how the different cultures to which the people in your group belong could influence how you will experience the cultures you encounter on your trip. Keep the cultural differences within your group in mind as you learn about the culture to which you will be going. This will enrich your discussions and improve your awareness of your own cultural biases. 

Takeaway: Some experiences, beliefs, and values tend to be shared by many people across cultural boundaries, while others are very specific to an individual culture. Knowing the difference between these two categories can help you navigate a new culture with respect and humility.

Want more trip planning support? Our short-term mission team would love to help.