GEM, my sending organization, sent a great email about culture shock the other day. I’d learned about the process while living it in Senegal six years ago, and knowing that what I was feeling was normal helped SO MUCH in not feeling awful or insane. Before I moved to Greece, I told people that I anticipated the same sort of cycle to occur:
In January, I will be motivated, excited, and overwhelmed. In February, I will become sullen and withdrawn as reality hits and I process the fact that this is not a vacation and I am not going “home” anytime soon. In March, someone will visit me, and I will get to show off my new home to them while simultaneously rejoicing in my new role as Not the Dumbest One Around. In April and May, I will settle into my new life and start to take ownership of my routine, friends, and living situation. After that…I don’t know, because I left Senegal after five months.
In official culture shock terms, I’m firmly in phase one:
Stage 1 – Excitement
You may experience a holiday or ‘honeymoon’ phase in your new surroundings. You may:
- Feel positive about the host culture
- Experience a sense of adventure
- Feel overwhelmed with new information, systems, and experiences
- Feel strangely separated from reality—as if you’re watching life around you happen as though on TV
- Abnormally tired or sensitive to the increased amount of mental processing
Missional Problems to Overcome:
- Fear or anxiety about your new environment makes you overly cautious
- Temptation to remain a tourist
- Inadequate rest and downtime sets you on a course for burnout
- First and foremost, get adequate rest and downtime. Sleep and quiet times of reflection are important to help you process what you are experiencing.
It’s almost as though GEM read my post, A Week in Greece #1. Simultaneous excitement and exhaustion? Why, YES. It’s nice to know that I’m doing self-care right, giving myself a lot of down time to process and rest and feel safe.
So what’s next?
Stage 2 – Withdrawal
You will now be forced to engage with the culture to accomplish normal daily tasks. It can be frustrating to discover that simple things do not work the way you are used to.
- Find the behavior of the people in your host country unusual and unpredictable
- Miss subtle cultural cues in conversation or work situations
- Begin to dislike or compare the host culture to your home culture and react negatively to the behavior of others
- Feel anxious and isolated
- Begin to withdraw relationally or compensate with more interaction with your home culture
- Begin to mock, criticize, or attempt to correct people from your new culture
- Sentences or thoughts that begin with “Back home we…”, “Why don’t you…”
- Telling culturally based jokes
Missional Risks to Overcome:
- Contempt toward your new culture becomes contempt toward the people you are here to minister to
- Unguarded comments can damage your testimony
- Pray daily for your new culture and people you are meeting by name
- Have a friend hold you accountable and give feedback if you are being “snarky”
Yikes. That’s going to be fun.
But really, it’s so comforting to know that the upcoming resentment is normal. I’m not an awful person for experiencing it – just a homeless person doing her best to mentally, emotionally, and physically keep up with the demands of adapting to a foreign culture.
Stages 3 and 4 are a long time coming. If I think of it, maybe there will be a follow-up post about them. If not….go ahead and research on your own if you’re curious!
Have any of you gone through the stages of culture shock (with or without realizing you were)? What was your experience? Leave a comment and let me know!