- a state of bewilderment and distress experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to a new, strange, or foreign social and cultural environment. – Dictionary.com
I found a website that accurately describes exactly how culture shock feels and what it looks like to a new missionary at http://www.pettengillmissionaries.org/missions-and-the-shocking-reality-of-culture-shock/. I don’t feel like I can say this any better to help others understand this complex feeling, so I quote…
Many missionaries think they have culture shock licked before they ever leave their home. We try to intellectualize culture shock. We think, “Ok, I get it. There is going to be poverty, new food, new language and new customs. Great. Let’s move on.” The reality is culture shock is exhausting. You don’t realize how much your senses are bombarded by new sounds, sights, tastes and experiences. It wears a person down to continually process the external stimulus.
Then add in experiences like not being able to communicate, or understand anything, moral dilemmas and always getting lost. There is nothing more humbling than to be pulled from your home culture, where you are relatively smart and can communicate, and being plopped into a situation where you sound like an uneducated three-year-old and nothing makes sense.
Every missionary goes through it. It is the point of your journey where you have been in your new country for 6 months or more (for us it is 10), and you enter the frustration period of transition. Everyone has different reactions at different times when presented with the same circumstance. Mine has been the frustration of being here and learning Spanish, but not being able to communicate emotionally yet. When I feel like I am making a connection only for them to open up to me with words I haven’t learned yet.
There are days I just want to avoid Spanish speakers because I don’t want that disappointment of reaching for a connection with someone only to be blocked by this formidable Spanish barrier. But I go anyway.
I go to coffee. We have dinner. Haha as you can see, we center around food.. but I keep chugging along because I know that culture shock will subside soon enough. I just need to wait it out, keep being involved, and learn as much Spanish as I can. And I pray. And pray that God is here with me. And that he sees my frustration and please oh please give me the gift of tongues. In Spanish preferably.
But then He gives me a greater gift. He sends friends who are amazing and patient and are looking for a connection just like I am. Sure, I may not speak all the words correctly, but having new friends come to our home while we prepare homemade Alfredo sauce is such a gift. Friends that have stories just like we do. Friends that are willing to share and teach and don’t mind if I don’t know the word to use for “climbing trees.” Or a “piece” of cake. Because they want to know ME . All I have to do is open the door that God has put in front of me. The door that show that culture shock stinks some times, but these friends will be here for me as I enter through.
Tonight they were from Venezuela. But I know that my gifts that God is sending are telling me to not take the easy way out. Because the hard way is the most rewarding way.
Galatians 6:9 “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
P.S. Culture shock may stink, but we will get through it! And we definitely appreciate all prayers.