Culture shock is a real deal scenario for missionaries serving cross culturally. It is a huge issue that people need to understand before they come so that they can recognize it and be ready to deal with when it comes.
For me, it was a mixture of not even being able to count to three in the language yet, being stared at constantly, not knowing who was friend or foe, not understanding the subtle cues of non verbal communication, new spiritual realities, fear of being taken advantage of, and the pressure of helping my family adjust at the same time.
Sometimes I just wanted to stay inside, close up the house, turn the AC on full blast, click on one of the only English channels I had, order McDonalds delivery, and surf YouTube for videos from back “home.” Thankfully I am far beyond that place now and love my new home country!
Some would be missionaries may think they are the exception to the rule of culture shock, but that is very very rarely the case with anyone I have spoken with. I think we don’t like to admit that we are “going through it” because we may be perceived as weak or not spiritual. The reality is that all of us are “weak” and we can’t do it alone. We need the help of community, the help of others to make it through. I think this is a good thing. It has a way of working on and chipping away at our pride which is one of the major hinderances of being a learner of another culture.
Here are a couple of symptoms and stages from Duane Elmer’s Cross Cultural Connections:
Symptoms of culture shock:
- Unwarranted criticism of the culture and people
- Heightened irritability
- Constant complaints about the climate
- Continual offering of excuses for staying indoors
- Utopian ideas concerning one’s previous culture
- Continuous concern about the purity of water and food
- Fear of touching local people
- Refusal to learn the language
- Preoccupation about being robbed or cheated
- Pressing desire to talk with people who “really make sense.”
- Preoccupation with returning home
Stages most people go through in adjusting to a new culture
- Fun: The excitement and adventure of experiencing new people, things, and opportunities.
- Flight: Disorientation brings the urge to avoid everything and everyone that is different.
- Fight: The temptation to judge people and things that are different as bad or foolish.
- Fit: Creative interaction with the new culture that includes a willingness to understand and embrace.
Recognize these things when they are happening, be willing to laugh at yourself, get people on your side to help, and most of all, keep moving forward…even if its inch by inch! This too shall pass…