Going on an international volunteering project is not just about volunteering. It is also living in a community of local and international volunteers. This experience of living together is a unique opportunity to discover our own prejudices and stereotypes so that we can then fight and free ourselves from these ready-made ideas.
Going on an international volunteering project means living with local and international volunteers, so with people whose culture differs from ours. This experience is a unique opportunity to confront, to reality, our clichés, our stereotypes and the prejudices that we all have. However, what are they really?
Stereotypes are beliefs or ideas formed by one group about another group. In other words, a set of characteristics that we think that defines a group.
Prejudices, on the other hand, are attitudes or judgments, often, negative ones, that we form about another person or people we do not know.
Stereotypes and prejudices are inculcated in our “socialization”, a process in which we learn and internalize the norms of our society and our culture. They are very difficult to modify or delete because they are preconceived and shared by members of the same group. When faced with a situation where reality does not fit our preconceptions, then it is easier for us to change our interpretation of reality than to change our ideas. This is where we fall into stereotypes and prejudices.
The stereotypes are different from one country to another but all have one thing in common: hasty judgments, positively or negatively oriented towards a group. These priori attributed to others, locking them into an abusive generalization. Our education, the media and society convey these judgments. Despite the promotion of diversity and the promotion of tolerance, national stereotypes persist not only in Europe. Thus, we can understand that black Africans are savages, the French do not wash, the Arabs are terrorists, the Portuguese do the housework, the Russians are carried on the bottle, the Belgians only feed with french fries, etc. Moreover, we also have auto-stereotypes: it is the image can have of oneself and of one’s nationality, which quite often differs from the image that other countries can have of we.
We are all “responsible”, “victims” and “users” of stereotypes. Thus, abroad, we will tend to identify with our customs and accentuate the cultural difference through phrases as «at home, we do like that …» Just as your hosts may use their own stereotypes about your nationality.
Although, Prejudice and stereotypes perceived generally negatively, psychologists consider them important in everyday life. Indeed, these “mental shortcuts” present in each of us, allow us to have an idea or “mental map” of people we do not know. Stereotypes are dangerous from the moment we rely on them too often and do not revise them as our knowledge of people and cultures improves.
It is therefore important, when you discover other cultures, to never stop revising your preconceptions and continually refine your perception of others. This will also allow you to understand other ways of thinking and thus resolve conflicts objectively.