Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Supergirl Vs. Culture Shock

At training in Illinois, we talked about an inevitable monster that would take the best of us eventually - Culture Shock. I naively thought this monster wouldn't find me... that I had bested him with sheer cleverness by staying stateside in a major all-American city. Sure, I'd be completely surrounded by internationals, but they are from so many different countries and cultures that I didn't feel like I'd feel steeped in anything too much... it would just be like participating in a "World Cultures Festival" every day, and who wouldn't love that?

Last week, I noticed I was getting irritated by one of my friends going on and on about what "they" do in "their country" that is so much superior to the way "we" Americans do it. I was puzzled by my own feelings, because I have always been so fascinated and open to learning about other cultures before, yet now I suddenly feel offended and this urge rises up in me to defend my own culture. I know my culture doesn't do many things right, but there are certain things - especially hygenic things - that make more sense to me in America than in many other places. And it's the way I've always done it and my family has done it and all my friends have done it, and I don't want to be told it's all wrong! I try to be sensitive of others' cultures, so why can't they do the same? 

Over the weekend, I got totally sick from food poisoning... it was awful. And even though it only really lasted 24 hours, for three days the smell of garlic and fish and curry wherever I went made me wish never to eat another international dish again.

Yesterday I got flustered (ok, I just broke down and cried) everytime anyone questioned or criticized me about the way I did things. I know that is vague, but it pretty much touched on every aspect of my daily routine, including the fact that I microwave leftovers instead of putting them in the oven.

And last night when I was tutoring my favorite kids (international by ethnicity, but fluent in English), I got mad because they kept talking at me in Arabic (which they know I can't speak) and laughing. Why would they do that? Don't they know that is so rude?

And this morning I got frustrated because I heard my families hanging out in the living room and I went out to sit and visit with them, and they thought I was trying to leave the house, so they got up and opened the door for me and scolded the kids for being in my way. I just wanted to be with them, and couldn't seem to even communicate that to them!

I have never felt so out of place and disconnected, and as I thought about all these symptoms today - irritability, inexplicable weeping, sickness, homesickness, patriotism, exhaustion, hostility toward other cultures - I could here Jim Miller's voice in my head saying, "It's gonna happen - just recognize it for what it is." Culture Shock. Somehow the monster found me - in the home of Vera Bradley and DeBrands Fine Chocolates! How did it find me?

Of course, my training also taught me that I have two choices at this point: I can be critical and withdraw, or I can take a deep breath and get back to learning - observing, asking questions, engaging. It's not easy - my spirit's been a bit bruised this week and my tummy is still recovering - but I know God put me here, and I know the people I love, love me too. And as inevitable as Culture Shock is, it is also possible to overcome it - to grow and become stronger through it, if I keep following the Lord. So pray for me as I face the epic showdown: Supergirl Vs. Culture Shock!

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