Culture Shock Notes

I have gone one a few trips overseas and been to a variety of countries with varying levels of similarity to American culture. With that said, I am not an expert on culture shock, and I tend to have more shock when I come home than when I go to another country…but I have found some things to be true when dealing with the possibility of culture shock. I’ve compared notes with other vagabonds and we seem to agree in the basics.

Also, most of my trips have been for religious/missionary reasons, so the notes that follow have that bend as well. Some would be universal for anyone traveling from home, but some are specifically for those who are Christians. If you are not a Christian, I ask you not to run away and hide, or lash out irrationally. We each can find a way to live together, but I would say that having my faith with me and knowing that God is right there with me wherever I go has been key to getting over any culture shock I have had myself. (Psalm 139:9-10)

These points are great for groups who are going on a mission trip together, but can have application for other trips as well. I hope it is helpful!

(Also, I did mention that I tend to get reverse culture shock, which is culture shock when you’re returning to your own culture from being in another for an extended period of time. I’ve found these points helpful for the return as well.)


Culture Shock 

What to watch for: 

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Sleeping for extended periods
  • Headaches
  • Nausea Diarrhea
  • Anger
  • Apathy or irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling highly critical of everything

Keeping a Journal 

In this, you should include your daily experiences, recaps, expectations for the day, reflections on your devotion, etc.  Your journal will be your best friend and the place for you to express your joys, vent your frustrations, and anything in between!

Listen to familiar music 

Do this sparingly.  I would suggest only for about 15 minutes or so.  If you have some music in the local style, listen to that as well!  It’s a good way to help you acclimate to the new culture a bit more.

Prepare yourself to experience a different culture 

Things are going to be different.  Get that into your head now!  The food will taste different (even if you looooooove Mexican food here).  Customs will be different.  Personal space is something that is handled very differently too.  There are going to be smells that you are not used to.  Dirtiness and cleanliness will be something you just have to deal with on your own.  You can be grossed out all you want, but try not to let it show to the locals – they will be offended.  Hand sanitizer can be your best friend, but again, don’t use it every 5 minutes in front of the kids – they will be offended.

Keep healthy! 

This is very, very, very important.  First priority is water.  You must stay hydrated. Carry around your water bottle with you at all times.  Bring a nice durable one that you can set on the ground anywhere (preferably with a belt clip).  If you think you may have trouble, then take individual powdered Gatorade packs with you.  Electrolytes are your friend.

Also, do not be afraid to eat the food.  You need to stay healthy and strong.  Try new things, but if you’re having a hard time stomaching something, take some snacks/comfort food in your suitcase to munch on.

Lastly, PRAY! 

God’s grace covers all things.  He will give you strength to get through whatever is troubling you.  Pray for teammates.  Have times where you pray for each other in a group or by yourself.  You will be amazed how much better you will feel after you have blanketed yourselves with prayer.  And don’t forget that you have people at home who are praying for you diligently.  You are loved and cared for, especially by God.

Japanese Earthquake Mar ’11

It’s unreal to think of what has happened in the northeast Japan.  I never got that far north when I lived there, but I did go through Tokyo for a few days around Christmas/New Year’s.  The earthquake has devastated the northeast.  I spent most of my time in the west, so the areas I lived in and became familiar with didn’t even feel the tremors.  I can’t really even express what I’ve been feeling and thinking for the people of Japan.  It’s strange to think of their clean and organized cities being in disarray and disaster.

In church, we sang “Draw Me Close to You” by the Katinas.  I loved that song before going to Japan, but we also sang it there in Shimonoseki Christ Bible Church – in Japanese, of course.  Whenever I hear it, I feel a swell in my heart for the people in that congregation.  (I have the same thing happen with “Amazing Love” and some friends in CN.)

I can just imagine God, in heaven, drawing close to the people of Japan and waiting for them to come the rest of the way.  Less than 1% of the Japanese are Christians and many of them live in the East.  Please be in prayer for the people of Japan – that God would use this tragedy as an opportunity to draw them close to Him, to make them aware of who He is and what He can be for their life.  Before it’s too late.

Short Story – Gladys Aylward

I found this in the book I’m reading, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood compiled and largely written by John Piper and Wayne Grudem.  As you can expect with those two authors, I’m still wading my way through the Foreward…and what a trove of treasure in those few pages. 

I have, for a long time, enjoyed reading about some of my favorite women of the faith, especially missionary women, and especially those who have worked in the field while single.  These are primarily Amy Carmichael (India), Lottie Moon (China), Elisabeth Elliot (single for a time after her husband Jim died and missionary in Ecuador, to the people who murdered him), but I keep forgetting about Gladys Aylward, missionary to China.  I haven’t read too much of/by her, but this little story makes me want to raid my personal library for her bio that I know is in there somewhere.  The story is related by Elisabeth Elliot in the Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter:

She had been a missionary in China for six or seven years before she ever thought of wanting a husband.  When a British couple came to work near her, she began to watch the wonderful thing they had in marriage, and to desire it for herself.  Being a woman of prayer she prayed – a straightforward request that God would call a man from England, send him straight out to China, and have him propose.  She leaned toward me on the sofa on which we were sitting, her black eyes snapping, her bony little forefinger jabbing at my face.  “Elisabeth,” she said, “I believe God answers prayer!  He called him.”  Then, in a whisper of keen intensity, “but he never came.”

I will not close a door that God may be keeping open, but I am no longer trying to force it to remain open.  It can do as it wishes and I will be content to stay on this side of the wall until God gives me a reason to go through it.  And the peace of that is amazing.

A Veteran

Disclaimer: I’m not trying to detract from those who have served the United States in the military during a war, so please don’t think that I don’t appreciate what they have offered and sacrificed.


I’ve recently been confronted over and over with the knowledge of just how patriotic I am.  It runs deep in me.  I bleed the colors of my allegiance.

I will be the first to admit that I am American, by birth.  I will also be the first to admit that I love traveling the globe and meeting people around the world.  I crave learning and being around other cultures (those within my country and those without).  The summertime is chock-full of holidays in the US to celebrate this great nation.  Festivals, concerts, etc are scattered throughout the season and peppered with the cheese-ball post-9/11 American music and red, white and blue waving from the corners of every tent.

This is not what I mean though.  I went to the Butler County Fair a couple of weeks ago, and it was everywhere.  I went to the remote-control air show at the Butler County Regional Airport this Sunday (I know…feel free to judge my nerdiness, but I had a great time with good company!) and it was everywhere as well.  What gets to me is when they ask for the Veterans to stand up.  I love it.  I may not have served in the US armed forces, but the honor of having gone somewhere and served your country, on the front lines, or even just in small side-skirmishes – it’s inspiring.

Something inside of me wants to stand up too when they make that call.  I’ve not been in battle or brandished arms, but I have been a soldier in the Lord’s army.  My allegiance is with God.  He’s my portion, my captain, my commander.  I have been in the reserves – at home, going about business, waiting for the call to take up and go – and have had to leave everything to go serve Him.  I have been on the frontlines of spiritual battles.  I have been in the small side-skirmishes.  I’ve also been on the relief team and covered others in prayer who were on the field.

But, just because I am home now, does that mean I am retired?  Can I consider myself a veteran just yet?  I’m not sure how the military handles things.  Is it that once you’ve been in active duty then you can be considered a veteran?  Or do you have to serve a full active duty term until you are discharged or are too injured to continue?

The truth of it is that my heart aligns so much more with my God than with my country.  I have a sort of apathy that I’m not fully proud of concerning being an American.  But this is not just national apathy.  It’s also global.  I may not truly feel like this country is my original home, but I neither feel like any other country is my home.  This is my place of residence, and when I am living in a country, I abide by their laws because that is what Jesus said to do.  But it doesn’t make it my home.  It’s where I live.

And I am so thankful for that.  And with this proclamation, I’m asking all you veterans for the kingdom of God to stand up and be acknowledged.  Those of you in active duty (which, I guess, would be all of us!), stand as well and be honored.  We fight in a glorious battle against the evil one, and it’s already won.

(Not sure how much this post makes sense, but it’s what I woke up with on my mind this morning.)