Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Crossing Cultures - Thoughts

I admit to being the ultimate nay-sayer. If I am warned about something ---- anything, really --- I will just say "Nah, that is not gonna be a problem for me." I always think *I* will be the exception to the rule. When I started running, I was going to be the one runner who did not over-train and get injured. When I tried to carry a full load of classes and work full time with two little girls, I was sure it would be no big deal. When Troy suggested that coaching a softball team might be a lot for parents of five kids, I shrugged him off. People who warn me about things often get a "yeah - whatever" response. I tend to think I am invincible. Really, I'm just stupid, or prideful, or both.

Today I am writing to say that when I said I would have zero issues with re-entry and that living in two vastly different countries would be easy for me ... well, I was wrong. Really wrong.

I basically always thought this re-entry and reverse culture shock stuff was a load of crap. I thought those people were just dramatic and weird ... even attention seekers.

Today as I stood in Wal-Mart waiting for Britt to finish her eye exam, I wanted more than anything to be anywhere else but in Wal-Mart. It was making me mad, uncomfortable, overwhelmed and tired. I have a lot of errands to run and things to buy during our limited time in MN, but I am dreading doing it. The whole thing is so tiring. It's not even that I am mad. I just feel unable to choose and almost like I forgot how to shop at a store with that much stuff in it. I feel something I can not even identify. It surprises me and I've got a long way to go to get it sorted out. I just feel crabby towards everything.

It's never been my goal or desire to try and make sense of why the ladies in the village of La Digue fight over my empty plastic jugs and glass jars and just 700 miles away the spoiled man at Starbucks coffee in America freaks out because they left the wrong amount of room on top for cream in the $4.00 coffee he just bought.

People have no idea what a real problem is. Watching someone get impatient in line at Wal-Mart is enough to make me cry. Yes, I know I am dealing with wacky hormones, but I think it is more than that. I think the USA is filled with spoiled brats who would not know what true/real hardship was if it smacked them upside the head. I ,for one, (even when I was once in debt and considered myself "poor") NEVER missed a meal or went to bed with hunger pain. I never had a kid die in my arms because I had no money or hospital to get them help. I've got no real problems. I have a few perceived problems that are a big joke. That is all. There is a guy we see often when we go in and out of Port. He walks on his hands. He has no legs and no fancy equipment. He just gets places by using his arm strength and hands. Most of the places he needs to go are filthy dirty. I am pretty sure he would think he had died and gone to Heaven if he had the chance to stand in line at Wal-Mart. Even if the line was slow.

I try hard not to make blanket statements. I really do see lots of gray areas in life and I don't enjoy judgy people at all. I get especially annoyed with judgy Christians that have the answers for every situation and problem. But- today I am making a judgement and I'm not really concerned about who it ticks off. I think every single American should, at some point in their lives, visit a developing country. Not a tourist part of the Dominican or Mexico. The real developing world where the majority of the world's population live and "do life." I think everyone ought to see first hand how unbelievably blessed they are ... maybe then they won't let a long line at Wal-Mart or the wrong amount of coffee cause some sort of coronary.

I found this (below) at It is written for shorter-term missionaries. I found I identified with a lot of it.


Re-Entry Stress

This is the process that you may experience upon returning home. Re-entry stress or reverse culture shock, generally is experienced to a greater degree the longer one has been in another country. Disillusionment with America and American Christianity play a part in any re-entry stress that is experienced.

Initial Reactions

If this is your first trip outside your home country you will be exposed to things you have never experienced first hand before, such as the plight and poverty of many in developing countries. It is not uncommon upon returning home to become disturbed and even bitter toward America’s opulence and waste.

When you return you will be excited to eat the “Big Mac and large fries” you have been craving. Your family and friends will be proud and excited to see you an you will experience a “high”. You have just conquered the unknown, been used greatly by God and you will be the center of attention. Soon, however, this “high” drops and re-entry shock may begin.

Following are a few examples of possible reactions you may experience. Be prepared to deal with life back home in light of your new experience. All short-term ministry/missions workers will experience some degree of re-entry stress.

1. Self-concept – Any life-changing experience can cause you to re-evaluate who you are in light of the experience. Questions about the meaning of life and its direction may be a part of the re-entry process. You may decide never to go outside the United States again or you may discover that there is a call on your life to ministry outside the United States. Questioning life can be good, but the uncertainty of the answers may cause some stress.

2 Value Change and Choice – Clashes between you and those to whom you return may occur in several different areas, such as material possessions, family life, racial prejudice, national priorities in ecology and politics, and Christian community conflicts.

You may face the problem of integrating what you have just seen with what you see around you at home. Your eyes may be opened to the shallowness of Western Materialism and you may want to react by telling others they are wrong to own so many “things”, eat so much food and waste so much.

3. Expectations – You will have had many expectations for your trip about the culture and language differences, the new and exotic country and God’s purpose for you making the trip. However, you may not have expected the reactions you may encounter when you return home. You may find that you feel like a stranger now in your own country. You may have expected your family and friends to be as excited as you are about your experience and become hurt if they show little or no real interest about something that has made a tremendous impact on your life. Realize that many will just not be able to understand what you have been through. This seeming lack of interest can reinforce in you an opinion that American Christians are just not interested in the rest of the world and are simply lovers and pleasers of self. You must guard yourself from becoming resentful toward family, friends and American Christians.

4. Sense of Loss – You may experience a sense of loss over new-found friends and places or from being disconnected from the rest of the team. Your recent experience is not the nitty-gritty reality of everyday life. Being in a strange country, away from all familiar cues and the security of familiar faces and places can facilitate a tendency to become extremely close to fellow team members an when you return home you may experience a sense of void. It may take sometime to readjust to your life as it was before your trip. You may also feel a loss of purpose and self-importance. God has just used you greatly to minister to the needs of others in a different country and when you return this purpose may seem somewhat lessened.


Maybe you don't get me at all. Maybe now you think I am the dramatic one. The only thing I know for sure ... it is hard to reconcile it all.

M'pa Konnen.