Volunteering abroad in Bali at Volunteer Programs Bali means getting to know a new culture. Being surrounded by Balinese people every day, you get to learn a lot about the Balinese culture, about the religion, customs and traditions. Whether you learn from the local homestay family that you live with, from your students in class or from the local staff of VP Bali, you will learn new things every day!
For us at Volunteer Programs Bali it is also very important that our volunteers learn but also respect the Balinese culture. The culture is so different than any other western culture, and it can be very complex as well. There might be things that you won’t understand, or that you are not used to. That is the beauty of being in another country, adapting yourself to a totally different culture and go with it during your stay.
There are many aspects within the culture that are different and new, and we can’t except from our volunteers to know all of them and to remember it all. But there are a few do’s and don’ts that are actually quite important to know and to remember, and to use in the daily life in Bali.
At the orientation program we explain these all in depth to our new arriving volunteers, so that they are aware of them and they can adapt to it.
We will share a few most important ones with you here. If you are in Bali, whether you are volunteering or not, we suggest you to keep these do’s and don’ts in mind and to respect the Balinese culture, traditions and customs.
Do: Dress appropriately.
Indonesia is a modest country; it is common to cover shoulders and legs. Balinese Hindu culture also doesn’t allow much “nakedness”. In touristy areas, you’re allowed to dress a bit more freely, but when in school or in rural areas, try to keep covered. In the classroom, all volunteers should wear clothes that cover shoulders and knees. That means long pants or long skirts/dresses. Females especially are expected to dress conservatively: no mini- skirts, hot pants, tank tops, etc. As for the males, even though it gets hot, please keep that six-pack covered with a shirt!
Don’t: Do not touch someone on the head.
Also, try not to point the soles of your feet at other people. The head is considered a sacred spot, while the feet are dirty. Children will feel uncomfortable if you touch them on the head.
Do: Always use the right hand.
Indonesians use the right for eating, whereas the left hand is for toilet business. If you want to pass something to someone, always use your right hand. It is highly offensive to give something using your left hand.
Sadly, your index finger won’t be doing a lot of pointing. It is considered rude to point at someone or something. Instead, if you need to show someone a cool thing, extend an open palm towards the cool thing you want them to see.
Do: Respect elders and the revered.
Priests and elders are highly revered in Bali, and it is very disrespectful to sit or stand higher than them. You can easily identify priests in temples as they usually wear all- white robes. If you need to pass an elder while he/she is seated, bend forward slightly with your right hand extended while walking in front of them.
Do: Keep calm and carry on.
Displaying outbursts of emotion or anger is laughable for the Balinese because they place high value on self- control and manners. Try not to cause a scene in public; you’ll only humiliate yourself.
Do: Watch your step!
When walking about, you might notice offerings on the ground. These are offerings to appease lesser spirits. Try not to step on them, especially if there’s still incense burning. Read more about Balinese offerings.
Do: Always wear a sarong and appropriate clothing when going to a temple!
For men, that means a destar (headpiece), a sarong and sash, and a shirt. Women should wear either kebaya or a top that covers elbows along with a sarong. Sandals are recommended. Read more about this in our temple guide.
Don’t: enter the temple under these conditions.
Women who are menstruating and/ or anyone who has recently attended a funeral of a close family member. You are considered leteh or impure under these conditions. Learn more about going to the temple in our complete temple guide.
And a few more do’s and don’ts to finish off with:
• Take off shoes when entering a house or temple
• Be careful of mosquitoes!
• Ask permission when taking a picture of someone.
• Learn some phrases in Indonesian (or Balinese!)
• Make local friends and be invited to their homes.
• Enjoy Bali to the fullest; explore and be immersed in culture and nature.
• Eat local food at warungs and markets.
• Honk if you’re stuck in traffic because of ceremonies.
• Do drugs. The death penalty applies.