Culture shock is a phrase that gets tossed around some in missions conferences and other places, but what is it? How do we deal with it? We have lived in a few different cultures as missionaries, and we can testify that it is sometimes a shock. No two cultures are exactly alike between countries. You can even find different cultures in the same country! We get so used to thinking our way is the only way because it’s the best way that anything different can really throw us off.
In 2015 we got to be at the missions conference of Northwest Bible Baptist Church in Elgin, IL. We had a very good time and enjoyed some great teaching from other missionaries. One lesson that I sat in was on culture shock. It has been a great help to me and I wanted to share it as it may be a help to others. All credit goes to Zach Bruner, missionary in Brazil, since he was the one teaching. I’m not sure if this is all original to him, but there is certainly some good wisdom here.
ADAPTING TO THE FIELD – AKA – CULTURE SHOCK
Why is there culture shock? People tend to accept their way as the best, and sometime, only way of doing things.
What is culture shock?
- It is an occupational disease of people who have been transplanted suddenly abroad.
- It is an emotional disturbance, which results from encountering an environment that is different from what you are accustomed.
- It is an anxiety that results from losing all your familiar signs and symbols of social life.
- It is having a different response to an action or attitude than to what you are accustomed.
The steps of shock and recovery
- Fascination – “Wow, this is so different. That’s neat!”
- Hostility – “LEAVE ME ALONE!”
- Superiority – “Don’t these stupid people know how to do anything right?”
- Adjustment – “This is how it is.” It will come – Don’t quit!
10 tips to help with culture shock
- Go as a learner. I don’t know everything. Don’t go as a know it all, go empty expecting to learn.
- Expect negative reactions. In this situation, you are the strange foreigner.
- Accept the differences.
- Accept yourself. Failure can make you defensive. Be yourself.
- Keep your sense of humor. Learn to laugh at mistakes.
- Rejoice in small victories.
- Open up to others. I have to create relationships.
- Take vacations. This is important to keep your marriage strong and your kids loved.
- Be patient with others. They’re just as frustrated with my language as I am with theirs. We sound like foreign telemarketers to them.
- Love people. They’ll know I love them by how I treat them. Lead by example.
We must have humility. Don’t forget why God wants you on the mission field: to shine as lights and reach people.