the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.
I have been thinking about culture shock a lot recently. As missionaries moving to a foreign culture, it is something that you count on experiencing. The scary thing about it is that you don’t know how it will play out in your particular circumstances and for how long. Culture shock makes you grumpy and sometimes causes you to act in a way that you wouldn’t normally act–like reacting strongly to little things that don’t really matter. Culture shock can slowly build over time and cause you to reach an explosion point. Attitudes stink, emotions are heightened, ugly words are spoken, feelings are hurt… culture shock is not fun.
I have been thinking a lot about it lately because of our new teammates’ arrivals. I think back to how everything was so new and exciting when we arrived but how slowly culture shock crept in among us. It is interesting to sit back and observe my new teammates as they arrive with the same excitement, but how many of them are experiencing the frustrations of not fully understanding the culture here. Culture learning is a significant part of adjustment to a new home in a foreign country. Our team is doing a 3 month long intensive culture study of various elements in the culture. Sometimes understanding where people are coming from helps to give more patience in those times of “I hate it here, because I just don’t get it!”
Just today, I walked into the city center to locate two items: bubble wrap and cardboard tubes (for storing some of our posters and paintings for travel). I asked FIVE different Peruvians where I could locate these items, and they all sent me to the wrong area to buy them. Sixth one was the charm for me today. I have been here six years, and I still experience major frustrations with things like this. I remember Bill Richardson, our team mentor, telling us to prioritize a list of things that need to get done in the day. He told us that if we accomplished one of those things, it was a good day. Sometimes it takes a significant part of the morning to locate bubble wrap and tubes. 🙂
On the flip side, I am thinking a lot about reentry to our host culture. Though many things drive me crazy here, many things in this foreign culture have become our norm for living. In just a few months, we will again experience what they call “reverse culture shock.” I am curious and scared how that will play out in our lives. But I know that I will have to be just as aware of it as when we made our move to Peru.
If you are a Christian and you read this, please pray for our new teammates as they go through culture shock. Pray for patience toward each other and those that they live near. Pray for them to learn to understand more fully the worldview of Peruvians.
Also, I ask for your prayers on our behalf. It will be a huge adjustment to go back to things in our home culture. For our children, Peru is their norm. Living in the U.S. will be very different in what they are used to here. Punctuality is different, school routines are different, social cues can be different. Sometimes, when you constantly feel the differences, it makes you super cranky. I expect those days to come, and I can only depend on the Spirit to help me change my attitude when it happens.