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Kainantu? — A Cross-Cultural Experiential Workshop

Wycliffe Singapore conducted two Cross-Cultural Experiential Workshops as part of the GoForth Missions Conference in June 2018. Participants were first given a few tips on how to learn language and bridge cultural gaps, and then immediately sent to "Kainantu" to practise what they had learned in a very special cross-cultural experience! Many thanks go to the "Kainantuans" from Judson Baptist Church — we couldn't have done it without them!

Before you could see it, you could smell it — the experiential part of the workshop was hidden behind a partition, but tantalising food smells wafted over.

The workshop participants were told that they were going to a country called Kainantu, and taught a few basic phrases in an unknown language. These included “Hello” and “What is this?”

As they crossed the partition, they were greeted by a colourful display of jewelry, books and ethnic clothing being “sold” at two stalls run by four native “Kainantuans”. The participants tried to find out what the different items were called and how much they cost. It all happened with a lot of pointing and repeated use of the phrase “What is this?”. Sometimes the replies were ambiguous: was she giving the word for “ear” or “earring”?

Kainantu: marketplace, meal

At the other end of the room, two mats were laid out on the floor, with another group of friendly Kainantuans offering bowls of home-cooked soup, along with fragrant spices and herbs. The participants took the cue from their hosts to take off their shoes and kneel or sit on the mats. In between mouthfuls, they used their limited vocabulary to try to figure out the words for “spicy” or “delicious”. Of course, where words failed, there were a lot of satisfied “mmm” sounds and thumbs-up gestures.

In the background played some music which sounded familiar in its pop-style instrumentation, yet the lyrics were completely lost on the participants. That perhaps represented the whole atmosphere of the workshop: something like friendly confusion. One lady meant to ask two stall-owners if they were siblings, but ended up asking if they were lovers instead!

During the debriefing, one participant commented that if the 20-minute experience could be so frustrating, imagine how stressful it would be for a week or a few months! Learning language and bridging cultures are indeed very difficult and intimidating — and you will often find yourself being embarrassed, or inadvertently rude.

Still, as the facilitators reminded everyone, the important thing is to bring the good news to every culture and language group. Even though overcoming cultural and language barriers is challenging, it is still worth it!

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