Culture Shock

Culture Shock:

Culture Shock

by Myron Loss

– As a result of poor cultural adjustment, many missionaries often have a hard time getting along with their fellow workers.

– Next to poor health, difficulty with interpersonal relationships is the reason most commonly given for people leaving the missionary profession.

– The human organism is capable of enduring only so much stress for so long before showing signs of deterioration.

– Excessive stress accounts for a good deal of missionary illness.

– Culture is what makes you a stranger when you are away from home. It’s the beliefs and expectation about how people act and what is accepted as being proper.

– In US, one can be a leader, successful and secure, but suddenly he becomes a learner when he gets to the field. He is corrected and humbled, and if he doesn’t learn to make the role switch, he will feel insecure, self-conscious and threatened. The experience brings out the worst in some students: stubbornness, rudeness, withdrawal, and hyper-criticalness.

– Language learning is one of the big causes of culture shock. One often feels like people are laughing behind their back and judging — and they are. It is tiring, boring, and frustrating. Nothing seems to go logically or smoothly, because logic is identified with familiar ways of talking and thinking. His self-esteem and self-worth is under attack.

– Change in routine. A wife learns that she no longer knows how to cook. Temperature and altitude are different, and there are no frozen foods or instant mixes available. Canned foods are expensive and vegetables and fruits must be washed carefully. Purchasing groceries may be going from store to store or street to street instead of merely changing isles like in the homeland.

– Culture stress affects every foreigner. Missionaries are not immune, even though they go in the Name and with the blessing of Christ. They cannot avoid physical and spiritual stress.

– If absolute cultural adjustment is the goal, then the missionary will feel frustrated: for no matter how much he may desire otherwise, he will always be considered a foreigner by the people.

– For most people, the early experience within the new culture is one of fascination with the sights and sounds. Gradually this fascination gives way to dissatisfaction with the inconvenience cause by the culture, and eventually ends in one of four responses: (1) total rejection of the new culture, (2) total rejection of the old, (3) grudging coexistence, or (4) healthy integration of the new with the old. Only in the latter are behavioral irregularities minimized and wholesome adjustment possible.

– The missionary does not need to worry about whether or not he is adequate for all of the trials that will be set before him. His adequacy is from God (II Cor. 3:5).

– The 1st term involves considerable stress from three different sources:

1. Culture stress and the need to relearn acceptable behavior

2. The stress imposed by the idealistic missionary image and the resultant pressure to achieve

3. The stress of normal life change events taking place with the initiation of a missionary career

– Life changes that cause stress:

1. Occupation — changing of jobs

2. Geographical move — pack, move, unpack, organize, decorate, make new friends, where to eat, etc.

3. Language — cannot make friends, get involved in basic life activities or get around until learn the language. It takes a year of stopping all to get the new language.

4. Living conditions — differences 5. Financial status, childbirth in a new country, marriage

– Too many first term workers resign and go away bitter toward their fellow-workers or mission boards. Resigning seems like the way to escape.

– According to the Missionary Research Library, missionaries who quit after their first term, forty-four percent of the missionaries felt that the board of mission could have done something that would have resulted in their continued service.

– Fifteen Tips for Survival to New Workers — to minimize stress and be able to stay after first term:

1. Set Reasonable Goals — the work will take longer than you think. Some need a kick in the pants, but most need to slow down or not set so high of goals. Less work in ministry and more focus on surviving after arriving. Can’t learn a language as fast as want or expect. Ps. 127:2 teaches that God gives us rest, so slow down a bit.

2. Don’t Take your Job Description too Seriously — your significance is not determined by your performance. You are not the messiah to the country, Christ is.

3. Be Committed to Joy — it’s the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), but enjoyment in life has become a taboo for too many Christians. See every day as a new possibility and everything as miraculous. Joyful people are rare individuals.

4. Maintain Good Emotional Health — mentally healthy people have consistently have five basic qualities according to Menninger Foundation: (1) They have a wide range of interests and friends from who they draw personal satisfaction. (2) They are able to “roll with the punches”; their broad range of interests help them to see alternative solutions to personal crises. (3) They recognize and accept their limitations and their assets; they enjoy what they are, and don’t try to be something different. (4) They treat other people as persons; they have empathy for the needs and concerns of others. (5) They are active and productive, using their gifts to benefit themselves and others; they are in control of their activities, the activities are not in control of them.

5. Remember that you are Human — you live in a human tent which needs food, rest and exercise. No one is an island, we all need companionship.

6. Don’t be Afraid of Being a Little Bit Eccentric — you might like hang-gliding or thrilling hobbies that other missionaries don’t like, but proceed with care. Don’t feel forced to confirm to what your image of Joe Missionary does.

7. Be Flexible — there are areas in which to be inflexible (Scripture, grace, purpose), but in most areas of life are we should and must learn to be flexible.

8. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously — good sense of humor is a balm for many wounds.

9. Reduce Your Stress Where Possible — when stress comes too great, take a vacation, get away for a day, play some hard tennis, go out to a quiet restaurant, go hunting, go shopping, get out of town, read a good book or take a long hot bath. Don’t put off tomorrow what you can do today. Matthew 6:34

10. Make Your Culture Change Gradual — don’t cut off all the ties to home before you’ve established ties in the new culture.

11. Forgive Yourself: Forgive Others — don’t be too hard on fellow missionaries. Forgive yourself. Don’t turn your artillery on your own ranks; keep it aimed at the devil and hold your grudge against him for getting you into this mess of sin. I Cor. 13:5 12.

12. Establish Some Close Friendships with People From the Host Culture — People the world over have the same basic needs, longings and worth. They are persons, deeply loved by God.

13. Be Thankful — If you find that you are no longer thankful to God nor appreciate the kindness of other people, you are out of the will of God (I Thess 5:18).

14. Be an Encourager — don’t only expect to receive encouragement and support from others, be an encourager yourself. Look for ways to build up other people.

15. Take Courage; Someone Understands — Jesus knows all about crosscross-cultural adjustment, and He shares your struggles with you. – How veteran missionaries can Help new missionaries:

1. Give new workers measurable and attainable goals — don’t just throw them on their own. Frequently let him know how he is doing.

2. Don’t let yourself feel threatened by the coming of a new worker — if you are threatened, then you are fighting your own self-esteem.

3. Don’t underestimate the stress of culture change — remember that memory is biased and unreliable, so you will probably underestimate the struggles you had with culture change. Women tend to have a harder struggle with culture stress but this doesn’t mean they are weaker rather different in makeup.

4. Take a vacation — if you take one, the new worker won’t feel sub-spiritual for taking one. Find a hobby, read some good books or go on a picnic and don’t be afraid of others finding out. In fact, make sure they know.

5. Treat the new worker as an equal person — you may not be equal in rank, but you are equal in worth and being. If you find it difficult to accept younger workers as close friends and brothers, it is an indication that you probably feel threatened because of personal insecurity.

6. Believe in people — when the new missionary comes to you with a problem or seeking advice, don’t just give him an answer. He probably wants support and not just information. Understanding and love are especially valuable to those whose self-esteem is under attack as it usually is during cross-cultural transition. If you are going to help the new worker, you must accept him, believe in him and try as much as possible to understand him

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