You know what the funny thing about culture shock is?

No one wants to admit that they are experiencing it.

We (myself included) want to talk our way around it or make excuses for why we’re acting the way we are…anything but culture shock!

I always like to ask people who are new to the field,

“How are you doing? Is there something in particular that’s been hard for you? Have you been dealing with culture shock?”

Surprisingly, a lot of the answers are usually the same.

“Oh, I’m great. Everything is pretty much like I expected it to be. I mean finding this was a little tough but no biggie really…Actually I’m just having a bad day. I’m just tired.”

And some of those answers make me feel like I’ve got to be the worst missionary EVER!! Because I’m still struggling at times haha.

But really….

I think one of the hardest things about culture shock is that most of the time, you don’t even realize you are experiencing it. In hind site, it’s all clear, but when you are experiencing it…not so much.

It’s true!

The most culture shocking things aren’t that “shocking.” We hear those words and think “wow, it’s got to be so shocking that it will hit me in the face (and some things are don’t get me wrong,) and I’ll know it’s culture shock.” But most culture shock (not all of it of course) just comes from boring things like registering at a local police station, dealing with crazy driving, not understanding the language, miscommunication, getting cheated when purchasing something, dealing with different weather conditions or getting pick pocketed.

And culture shock can be hard to see because it surfaces in the tiniest ways. It may be that constant frustration. It could come out in something you say to someone on accident or maybe a change in attitude. Maybe you avoid what would be considered your “normal” activities in the States? Like shopping, getting your hair done, actually leaving your house…ladies??? Maybe you’re always blaming other people for things?

Small things…Prove culture shock.

I often think back to our first year and think “How embarrassing! The way I acted!!”

I seriously can’t believe our fellow teammates put up with me at all! I would have shipped me back to the States I think haha!!

I really didn’t see it then. My husband often tried to hint at it, but at the time, it was just hard for me to admit.

But we shouldn’t be afraid to admit we’re experiencing it! And we should work hard to have the right response, the right attitude, to fight it off as best as possible.

I’ve had people ask what they can do to prevent culture shock…

And my answer is that I’m not sure that’s possible!! Culture shock is going to happen, and not only is it going to happen, it’s going to reappear OUT OF NOWHERE at times (well at least for the first term…that’s the extent of my experience)

So while you may not be able to prevent it, there are things you can do to help overcome it!

Here’s my short list:

1) Stay in the Word. Honestly, the devil uses culture shock to win many a battle. You NEED to increase your intake! Stay faithful to your devotional time! Warning: Transparent moment!! This is something I struggled with and have still struggled with upon returning to the field. There are so many excuses…tiredness from jet lag, headaches from language school, babies are sick etc. Don’t allow yourself excuses (ummm…talking to myself here.) And remember that you will not understand church services for a long time. That’s a big deal! You need to be fed. Feed yourself.

2) Pray. Ask the Lord to help you overcome it…to help you have a good attitude. Ask him to forgive you when you don’t. He is faithful.

3) Watch your attitude. Attitude is everything!

4) Read a book. Here’s a good book on culture shock.

5) Phone a friend. And by that I mean, if you are able to, talk to a veteran missionary or mentor who has adapted to the culture well. I had a wonderful friend who probably received a phone call from me twice a week for a year! She would listen to what I had to say and would let me know if what I was feeling or doing was okay or just wrong. She patiently listened to everything I had to say. She let me know when my attitude needed adjusting and she gave me advice in areas she had experience in. She answered immediately when I called or called me back soon after. I am so thankful for her willingness to be there for me! To help me. I have told many people that just having someone who “was there” meant a lot to me.

So that’s my short list. It is certainly not comprehensive or everything you could do.

Those of you who have experienced culture shock…what are some things you would suggest?

Leave your suggestions in the comment section below or message me personally and I’d love to put together another post for helps and resources in regards to culture shock.

One more thing…

In meeting many new missionaries, one of the things I’ve realized, is how important it is for us missionary veterans (not that I’m a veteran or anything!) to be patient with new comers to the field. It can be difficult to work with those experiencing culture shock, but we must have grace! I truly appreciate our teammates who showed me so much grace during our first two years on the field. The more I think about it…the more I love them! :)


Wondering what made me rant about culture shock this weekend? Check the blog on Monday for part 2… Never Ending Culture Shock Part 2


8 comments on “Never Ending Culture Shock Part 1

  • Thanks for this article Natasha. After ten years on the field, I must say…I still get culture shock. But I can recognize it now:) Like you said, at first you don’t want to admit it, and you especially dislike hearing that you’re going through “culture shock”. Hearing those words while in language school increased my frustration exponentially!! When I feel the frustration of culture shock now, I find it easy to admit it. And I think your blog post helped me to see why. When it was a problem that almost consumed me, I didn’t want to see it. But when it pops up every now and then, I have a different perspective on it and understand it more clearly. For me, it’s a pride thing. I can admit something I have a struggle with, but something that consumes me is much more difficult to be honest about. That’s why I agree with you that having someone who is outside of a situation, but has been in it before, can really help you keep you in line getting through it!! And the more I know and love Chile, the less “foreign” I feel. So there’s no doubt that for me, it’s all about how much I really love my country (Chile) and how much I think “my” way is better. We’re all blessed to be Americans. I love the USA!!! But I have a tendency to have a prideful attitude about my nationality. I don’t say that out loud, and don’t even think about is consciously; but it’s in my heart somewhere, because it shows up in my actions and words at times.

  • Thanks for your comment Lori! You have way more experience than me, so I really appreciate any input you might have. It’s so true what you said about loving your country! The longer you live in your new home and the more you adapt and fall in love with it…the easier culture shock is to deal with (in my opinion!) I also think this is the reason it can be hard to work with new team members. If we do adapt, we can love our country so much that we forget how it is for those who are just now adapting to their new life. That’s why I definitely wanted to add having grace towards them! Pride is always the issue really, and I appreciate you saying something about that as well! Thanks again reading and sharing!

  • This was really good for me to read Natasha! I think I have been very prideful in saying that I am doing fine here. You mentioned things that I have not even thought about. Small things like not getting my hair cut and doing other things that I would usually do in the states. Thanks for sharing!

  • Yes, culture shock will happen. I mistakenly thought that I would be exempt from culture shock in Kenya because I grew up as a missionary kid in Papua New Guinea. Wrong! It is a whole different thing being a child in a different culture than being a missionary wife/pastor’s wife in a different culture. I made (and still make) mistakes just like anyone else. In our three years now in Africa, I have been so frustrated at times, especially in areas that have to do with my children. That is a very sensitive spot with us mothers. Thankfully, I knew it for what it was–culture shock. It didn’t and still doesn’t make it any easier to go through, but God does bring us through, and in the end we are stronger for having gone through it and more understanding of the people we are working among.

    One thing that is a struggle for me is that sometimes your people will never be able to understand certain things you do. My nature is to please; to try to make people happy. I hate conflict. But sometimes there are misunderstandings with the people, and sometimes there is not a thing you can do about it. For instance, we home-school our son, and we’ve been told that he should go to a Kenyan school to be around children his own age. There comes a point that in some areas, you have to do what you feel God wants you to do even if the people cannot not understand why. When we go anywhere, we try as much as possible to adapt to their culture, to be all things to all men, but inside our home, we have a little sanctuary where we can relax and be ourselves. Yes, we invite people over sometimes, but on a day to day basis, I have learned that I don’t have to feel guilty for being American inside my own home. I hope all this comes across right. I love Kenya; I want to live here for the rest of my life, Lord willing, but this is something I’ve just recently had to come to realize. I hope it may be a help to others as well.

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