Thursday, May 16, 2013

What shocks us in culture shock? The situations we encounter, or our own reactions to them?

"Westerners in developing countries learn many things about themselves they might never have discovered had they remained at home. The smoothly functioning wheels of Western civilization protect us from many of the grating encounters that are so common abroad and that so acutely test our character and spiritual resources.

"…So much has been written about “culture shock” and the need to adapt to foreign customs, food, concepts of hygiene, and viewpoints generally that few missionaries get to the field without a thorough indoctrination to the culture of the country to which they are going.

"They have learned, in theory at least, that the key to a successful ministry will lie in their ability to assimilate that culture and to free themselves from the attitudes and prejudices of their own. They have been warned about the inevitable feelings of superiority, paternalism, disdain, impatience, and frustration that they are sure to experience and to which they may have previously considered themselves immune. Finally, they have been told that the course of their entire missionary career will ultimately depend on one thing: their day-by-day, step-by-step walk with God.

"Such preparation is necessary and helpful. In spite of it, I suspect that most missionaries during their first few years feel as we did – that they have really botched things up. Intensifying this feeling are friends back home who insist on setting them on a pedestal and making long excuses for their mistakes.

"…It’s not the situations we encounter in this place that are so unexpected, it’s our reaction to them."

Thomas Hale, in Don't Let The Goats Eat the Loquat Trees

See also a 2009 post: Culture Shock? We Don't Have It!

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