After living in the Philippines for more than 15 years, my family and I moved to a different Asian country. And one of the first things I did was study the language. Once while going through my lesson, my teacher would ask me a set of written questions in the local language. In my lesson plan, I had different options to answer the question.
In this one lesson, I was asked in the language, "Do you want to go out to eat?" I replied, "Yes I do." The follow-up question was, "Where do you want to go?" This time I mentioned a local restaurant nearby. Then my teacher asked, "Who will pay?"
At this point, I stopped the lesson. I pointed at the lesson and said, "This is not (the language I was studying)." My teacher was shocked. I then followed up. You can not tell me that in this country, you invite someone to eat, ask where they want to go, and then ask, "Who will pay."
For those reading this and who have not lived in Asia and find themselves a little lost, let me explain. In many Asian countries, when someone invites you to go out and eat, it is an unspoken expectation the one who is inviting will pay for the meal.
My teacher then explained that the reason it was in the lesson was that there were times when her western students invited her to eat which once the bill came, she was expected to pay for herself. She included it in the lesson so if she found herself in that situation she would feel comfortable to ask, "Who would pay."
I then made it a point to her that she was not only teaching language, but also culture. Language and culture are very intertwined. We will look at the value of "be international and interdenominational" as it deals with language. But before we get into the value, let us read it over.
8. Be international and interdenominational
YWAM is international and interdenominational in its global scope as well as its local constituency. We believe that ethnic, linguistic, and denominational diversity, along with redeemed aspects of culture, are positive factors that contribute to the health and growth of the mission.
In YWAM, we aim for more cultural diversity as communicated in our YWAM value "Be international and interdenominational." When living in multicultural teams, language is a challenge. In many of the countries I visited and in Asia, English was often the medium of communication among multicultural teams. When that is the case, westerners adjust quicker and have an advantage over non-English speakers in a multicultural setting. Also, the culture of the group becomes more western.
If English continues to be the dominant language in multicultural teams, the tendency will be that western ideas and culture will dominate. If we want more voices to rise from non-western countries, we need to change our approach in conducting our meetings.
So how do we address this? I do have a couple of suggestions.
1- Native English speakers should learn the language of the country they live in. If you have an American living in a Spanish-speaking country, he should learn Spanish. This will help the person know the culture and get an understanding of what others are thinking about.
2- More of our meetings could be held in the local language. I have been in Asian countries where leadership meetings were held in English. When this happens, the Asians in the meeting are already at a disadvantage. They spend a lot of time trying to understand what is being said and don't have time to formulate their thoughts on the subject at hand.
What if you are in a multicultural team? I would suggest that maybe half of your meetings would be in English and the other half would be in the local language.
This is not easy, and there are no easy answers. These are decisions that should be made at a local level.
But with that said, I do want to warn you not to focus on just one culture. We are an international mission that celebrates the diversity of culture we find ourselves in. Therefore, while embracing the local cultures we live in, we should be flexible to embrace the cultures of those who are living with us from other nations.
If you are a YWAMer, I would love to hear what you think in regards to this. I am sure there are angles I am not seeing. Please feel free to leave a comment or a question.
In July 2021, I finished my Master's degree at the University of the Nations in Team-based communication. The title of my thesis was "Looking at the Application of Youth With A Mission's Foundational Values Through Different Cultural Lenses." If you like to read it, click here. Blessings.