2nd Story Goods director and founder, MK has been living on the ground in Gonaives for almost 8 years. She's built a socially and ethically conscious company (In a country that isn't her own) by staying humble, laughing at mistakes, embracing the growing pains, and deep persistence. Although she is a lifetime learner, here are 3 tips she's picked up along the way.
1) If you aren’t fluent in the language, don’t assume you know what people are saying. I have made some pretty embarrassing mistakes when I nod and pretend to understand. Avoid embarrassing comments like:
Staff person “ I am going to stop working now and go to the countryside and come back in three days”
Me: Ok see you tomorrow!
Friend “I like your outfit. Everything matches so nicely”
Me “ Oh! No! I wouldn’t wear this to your marriage ceremony!”
It’s also super respectful to value what the person is saying enough to make sure you get it right. Sometimes you just need to bite the bullet and hire the translator.
2) Hold to what is true, regardless of the culture. It can be confusing at first. You know you don’t want to erase the culture of the country you are working in and replace it with your own. Clearly, that is not why you are there. But remember that stealing is stealing in every culture. That clarity is good everywhere. That sexual abuse is abuse in every language. Hold to what you know to be true universally. The same things that destroy relationships in one culture most likely destroy relationships in them all. So hold to what you know to be true for humanity, in every culture.
3) Take time to refresh! You need to step out and breathe different air every 6-12 months. This one took a long time for me to realize. Living cross-culturally is a gift and an honor, but it carries stress that living in your own culture does not. At first, you may barely recognize that your normal peaceful self is slipping away. But after an outburst that leaves you embarrassed for screaming about the wrong change you were given by a street vendor and that the grand total of the mix up was about .08, you begin to thinking...hmm. I may be carrying a bit of stress! It is important to take time out and refresh. People tried to tell me this years ago, but I didn’t actually learn it until I was having my own mini breakdowns. Don’t wait for that! Take time to refresh!.