R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Crosscultural Edition

When you look at your friend who is an immigrant, what do you see?

Maybe someone who struggles more than locals do with “daily life” tasks in a foreign place?

Maybe someone who struggles with the English language and/or with regional accents or colloquialisms from your area?

Maybe someone who struggles to feel at home?


Likely, your immigrant friend also wonders if you respect them despite their struggles. (How do I know this? Because that is exactly how I felt when dealing with culture shock in East Africa.)

Here are five ways to communicate respect to an immigrant friend dealing with culture shock:

1. Remember and respect that they are more than who they are right now.

There’s a place–their home country–where they feel at home and at ease and fully competent (and where you would struggle as much or more than they are right now!).

For more on this, read 4 Things You Should Never Forget About International Friends.

2. Listen and respect your friend’s complexity.

Ask questions that allow them to be more than a caricature of their culture and that go beyond the single narrative of “how did you get here?”

3. Be willing to bear the burden of discomfort.

This means being willing not to just to invite your friend into your life (which is great to do, but also means that they have to navigate many unfamiliar things on your turf) but also to accept invitations into their life (taking on the burden of navigating the unfamiliar). Learn more here.

4. Let your friend give back.

When “ministering” to an international, don’t forget to let them give back. Cultivating mutuality communicates respect and is key in any friendship (we’ll talk about this more in an upcoming post). And having a meaningful way to contribute to the betterment of the community as a whole is a fundamental need of humans in general! You don’t have to keep score, but be sensitive to the fact that your friend does not want to only receive but also to have the dignity of giving back.

5. Let your friend lead.

Often, Americans can hold on tightly to the reins of control when interacting with those from other cultures. But the most powerful way to communicate respect is to sometimes cede power, whether that’s in the planning of an event, the solving of a problem, or the starting of an initiative to make the community a better place.

When working on any kind of project in a multicultural environment, strive as much as possible to be the cultural consultant rather than the spearhead, the source of information rather than the point person. This will enable your immigrant friends–who may hesitate if not encouraged to lead in another culture–to use their gifts and talents and to shine!

Want more encouragement and practical tips for welcomers? Pick up a copy of my book, Loving the Stranger: Welcoming Immigrants in the Name of Jesus, and subscribe to this blog!

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