/ Volunteering

Cultural Competency Guide

Make sure that your attitude reflects an open-minded spirit, willingness to learn, and adaptability to new places and beliefs. Complete thorough research about your host culture before traveling to develop competency. Try to integrate this understanding into daily behaviors. Cultural competency is a process of learning! Aspects of culture include language, religion, food, eating habits, greetings, social norms regarding respect, family values, holidays and festivals, and other cultural traditions.


If you are interested in traveling through Sri Lanka with Sarvodaya, you can plan your itinerary through the activities listed below. Please contact Mr. Bandula at [email protected] for assistance!

Why is Cultural Competency Important?

Sri Lankan Cultural Norms

Cultural competency is crucial because if you travel without these skills, you risk offending the people around you and miscommunicating key information. Remember that you are a guest to this place.



Use your right hand when shaking hands, handing money and small objects, etc. Of course you can use both hands for something big and/or heavy. One should not touch another, as it is considered the most sacred part of the body. The bottom of the feet are considered the least sacred part of the body, so one should not use their foot to point at a person or an object. Pointing with the index finger is impolite. Beckoning is done by waving all fingers with the palm facing down.



The traditional greeting is placing together under the chin and bowing the head slightly. The younger people generally also shake hands. Men may shake hands with other men, and women may shake hands with other women. Many Sri Lankan women may not want to shake hands with men. Wait for a woman to extend her hand. When addressing people you should always use the appropriate title followed by the surname. Be mindful of your surroundings, as unusual behavior will draw attention.


Public Customs:

In homes, expect to remove your shoes before entering. At temples, shoes are always removed.
In public, people tend to speak in hushed tones. Emotional outbursts and physical displays of affection, especially between lovers, are completely inappropriate in public. Sri Lanka is a conservative country that expects traditional gender norms to be followed. As of 2018, same-sex behavior is criminalized.


Numbers to have:
  • Embassy in Sri Lanka: *make sure to look up the phone number of your  Embassy or Consulate in Sri Lanka
  • General Hospital-Colombo: 011 94 269 1111
  • Sarvodaya: 011 94 11 264 7159
  • Police Emergency Hotline Sri Lanka: 118 / 119
  • Tourist Police: 011 94 242 1052

Cultural competency is the ability to effectively understand and communicate with people from across cultures. It requires being aware of your own personal cultural values, practices, and principles as well as those of the host culture. It is important to not just be aware of the differences, but also to actively analyze how you engage with the host culture.

Who We Are

Sarvodaya Shamadana Movement

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Read About Us

Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement for the People in Need.