Unplugging the stereo(types)

7th April 2016

I clearly remember the day I was accepted as an International Citizen Service volunteer. It was a crazy roller coaster of emotions. I was over the moon about the opportunity but also a bit apprehensive about working with people who grew up in a different culture. I had never met anyone from the UK and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I had my own preconceptions about British culture through reading, TV and what others had told me. When I first thought about the UK, the first things that came to my mind were the Beatles and Eric Clapton – I grew up listening to these artists. The second thing was British colonialism. I had read about it and one of the stereotypes I had developed was that they might be bossy! I had quite negative stereotypes of British people. I thought they were all egotistic, individualist and arrogant, and that they all had bad teeth. How wrong I was!

We had a session on stereotypes with the UK volunteers. It was an interesting session because we didn’t know what kind of stereotypes UK volunteers had about us. It was quite funny to hear those stereotypes and most of them were true! Nepalis eat lots of rice, we’re not very tall, we are very polite and friendly people and, of course, we have all climbed Mount Everest (maybe not)! I personally didn’t find any negative stereotypes from UK volunteers but Nepali volunteers did have a lot of negative stereotypes about UK volunteers.

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Natalie and Prakriti teaching each other ballet and yoga

We categorise people based on predetermined stereotypes that we create through our experiences with one person, what we are told by others and what we see in the media. Our preconceptions often filter our experiences and can influence the way we think and act towards people. The way we perceive others may never be true and it can be dangerous at times if our perceptions are mistaken for facts. I had negative stereotypes before meeting the UK volunteers based on what others had told me and I had accepted them without question which was wrong.

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Nikee and Lara bonding over momos

Being with the UK volunteers was strange for a couple of weeks. Coming from a different culture, I was conscious about my actions. I didn’t want to be misunderstood or offend anyone because we were all part of the same team. However, being a Raleigh volunteer has taught me that it is really important to not judge a book by its cover or by its reviews! I have learned to question whether the lens I am looking through is tinted with biases. It has made me question my own ideas about other people and their cultures. It has also taught me to make my own opinions and not rely on others.

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Amulya and Phil celebrating their differences

Differences between people are inevitable, but being aware about yourself and trying to understand others will at least help you to accept the difference. Despite the difference in culture, we are all the same in our desire to make a difference. Our zest for making a difference unites us all – and our love for tea!

Written by Nepali volunteer Amulya Shrestha

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