Cultural Immersion Checklist

by Angie Washington on June 27, 2014

How many can you check? Congratulate yourself for where you are at!

To Do List Compilation

(just a few funny lists for laughs)

1. Attempt to learn the local language
2. Take public transportation
3. Buy food where the majority buys their food
4. Attend a typical wedding
5. Attend a typical funeral
6. Attend a typical birthday party
7. Visit a government office
8. Acquire the services of someone to repair something
9. Eat at the house of a local
10. Host a meal for a local in your own residence
11. Participate in the festivities of a local holiday
12. Dress like a local
13. Learn the local greeting
14. Prepare a local dish
15. Understand a local joke
16. Able to understand directions to some place
17. Able to give directions to a place
18. Experience shock… and work through it
19. Understand all the lyrics to a song in the local language
20. Able to verify you have been given correct change


21. Eat something you’ve never eaten before in ANY form (a chicken’s foot or ants, for example) –  LynnAnn Murphy

22. Read the local newspaper in its entirety –  LynnAnn Murphy

23. Participate in recreation with the natives (soccer leagues, pickup basketball, chess club, etc) –  Jeff Wright

24. Know and use national products instead of relying on imports from home country –  Jeff Wright

25. Adapt to the local climate or participate in local seasonal activities (the spring clean, learn to walk on ice, or plant your garden) –  Stuart Mattinson

26. Able to acquire emergency services –  Kimberly Wilcox Myers

27. Have a discussion about something abstract –  Kimberly Wilcox Myers

28. Acquire a drivers license and DRIVE like the locals! –  Shari Tvrdik

29. Sit with nationals and hear, in the local language, their stories of language mistakes that overseas workers have made –  Marilyn Gardner

30. For the sake of being a good guest, eat something you are certain will make you rather ill  – Breanna Randall

This fun list was originally posted to the facebook community page. If you haven’t yet liked the page you can do so at this link:   Thank you so much to all the people who added their “bonus points”.

Do you have anything to add to our cultural assimilation collection? Also, if you have an amusing cultural assimilation anecdote you would like to share in the comments please feel free to do so.

On behalf of the editorial and writing team of A Life Overseas please allow me to extend to you a virtual pat on the back and a sincere applause for stepping out and immersing yourself in a foreign culture.  Adaptation has its ups and downs. You are amazing! Be glad for how far you have come and know you are not alone in this journey.


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About Angie Washington

Co-Founder, Editor of this collaborative blog site: A Life Overseas
  • To gauge whether we’re setting the bar high or low, flipping the
    situation around and imagining/remembering immigrants in our home
    countries makes for an interesting comparison/thought experiment. At what point would we say an immigrant to North America is culturally “immersed” or “assimilated”? What are the criteria? Now turn that around and apply that standard to us expats. (I realize it’s not really comparing apples to apples, but close enough to be helpful, anyway.)

    Honestly, without the bonus questions the bar in the article seems pretty low — for long-termers who are expecting to engage deeply cross-culturally, anyway. I can’t check off:
    – 28 (driving, like a local — unless you count bikes!), b/c we don’t own a car.
    – 22 (read the entire newspaper), b/c CHINESE.
    – 12 (dress like a local) — well, I *could* roll my shirt up to my armpits and air my belly all summer while walking around the first floor grass area in my boxers, but I choose not to*. *That may change. Nor did we put our kids in split-pants. That will not change. But my daughter has Hello Kitty — does that count? 🙂

    • Your comment has me laughing, Joel. Thanks for a little peek into your life. “b/c CHINESE” – love it! Ha!

      Maybe I kept the list on the superficial side to help people get past a wall, so to speak, that stands glaring us in the face saying, or screaming at times, “Cultural assimilation is TOO hard.” It’s scary. It’s vulnerable. It’s just too much. …. so I will quit trying and close myself off in my little bubble of safe people who are different just like me. Maybe I wanted to share these “simple” actions to kick-start people and get them to see that 1) they really CAN do these things, and 2) once they are set in motion the momentum will carry them into deeper connections with the culture and the people of their land.

      Or maybe I just wanted to put together a fun list because online quizzes are all the rage right now. 😀 Ha ha ha.

      Your thought experiment of flipping it around as we look at foreigners on our home soil is genius! Fabulous observation, man.

      How would you modify the list to be more applicable to standards for long-termers?

      Seriously, if you do choose to dress like the locals* you MUST come back and post a picture for us. And, yes, Hello Kitty does count.

      • Richelle Wright

        as far as modifying the list to be more applicable to long-termers – i’d add: listening to someone share their understanding of a passage from the Bible and realizing that yours was totally different because of different cultural backgrounds… and that both are totally valid.

  • I love Joel’s comments. I do not dress like a local either. The fashion for ladies is typically very tight jeans, high heels and spaghetti strap low-cut blouses. At my age and weight, definitely a fashion blunder. I have never attended a wedding. Of course, I have been here in Honduras for 7 years. The wedding thing is probably my fault. I know that weddings last for hours, and usually start very late. I tend to shy away if I hear friends speak of a wedding. My fault, I suppose. Do I get extra points for transporting a coffin from the yard of the hospital to the church via my pick-up?

  • Julie Gibson

    I agree Laurie I do not dress like a typical local of my age as that often (esspicially in summer) requires a mini skirt or very tight jeans or shorts and very often a lace top that is completly see through. However not everyone dresses like that and I sometimes get mistaken for a local when I am out so I think I am doing ok on that count. I have been to two wedding celebrations but I am not sure they could count as typical as they were not traditional weddings but a more towards a western wedding with a few things added and I didn’t go to 3 nights of parties before (if the party is in the appartment below you and you stay awake for the whole thing because it is loud does that count?) Also not to a funeral because traditionally only men go to the funeral you just go to visit the family shortly after if you a a woman and I have done that. Also have not read a newspaper. I usually watch the news. I have read a magazine though and am working my way through the Chronicles of Narnia books 🙂 I also do not have a car so no driving like a local for me. But I cross the street like one (unlike some of my friends who have been here longer than me).

    I do think a revised list for people who are staying for a long time would be nice.

  • Belinda Chaplin

    Nice list – and I like that it was “easy” until the bonus questions…assimilation is not always an easy path for everyone…and it is encouraging to see how far one has come.

    Now for me, even after 13 years, I can’t get a local drivers license as the law here in Bosnia Herzegovina won’t allow me to get one, but I do drive like the locals 🙂 Otherwise, the only one I haven’t done is #23 – participate in a recreation activity with locals – that is something I hadn’t even thought of doing, but it is a nice idea, so may have to look into that!

    I liked the laughing about language mistakes with locals – happens a lot 🙂 and then inevitably ends up with my mistakes as well… And maybe a number 31: I find myself seeing a foreigner on the street and saying to my local friends “hey look at that foreigner” 🙂 as that is something they would do!!

    And now for your enjoyment, a little story:
    A while ago my (local) housemate told me that I needed to tell people I was a foreigner. She told me that my language was soooo good that no one ever twigged I was a foreigner, but they were all looking at me as
    if I they thought I was retarded!! Up until she said that I thought I was doing well, but then my fear became “will they think I am retarded???” However, when other missionaries heard this, they became jealous and they were all wanting to be taken for a retarded Bosnian rather than the obvious foreigner!! This quickly became the new sought after language level!

    Now, when I need to get something done that requires tricky language I do take my housemate’s advice and tell them that I am a foreigner, but that I think I can manage in the language, and of course this usually ends up getting me a compliment on my language skills 🙂

    But remember, if people don’t think you are a foreigner, maybe they are thinking you are retarded!

  • faith

    and when you buy your underwear in the country, you know you have really become part of the community.

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