The past few weeks Lizzy and I have been hit with some pretty strong waves of culture stress. We thought we’d take a moment to better describe what culture stress is and how it impacts people who live and work in a secondary culture, for example missionaries or immigrant families. One psychologist write that culture stress is “the relearning of daily routines in an unfamiliar environment, resulting in constantly making new decisions and ultimately fatigue or frustration.”
Culture stress can arise not only because of differences of national or religious values, but also because of differences of corporate, social, family and personal values. When under culture stress, problems which had been lying dormant for several years can suddenly come to the surface and create quite stressful dynamics.
Although ‘cultural assimilation’ can reduce feelings of culture stress, it can also create new conflicts and stress within families and groups, especially if one person assimilates more than the others. Some people also may have the impression that they are assimilating into the local culture. However, it can turn out later that that person’s assimilation has only been partial and that at a deeper level cultural dissonance still exists.
Another psychologists lists the following signs of culture stress to help people be supportive of those who are struggling:
Two weeks ago, I could identify with every single one of these. A, D, E, F, H, and I make regular appearances over the course of a month.
Since coming to Taiwan we both been sick more regularly and have an overall feeling of exhaustion. I’ve had to lower my expectations for the quantity of work that I can get done. You just can’t do the same amount that you can in your home country, in your home language. At least not for a long while. Many fellow missionaries said it wasn’t until their 6-7year of ministry abroad that they felt like they were finally being effective/useful/functional. I’ve known this for a while, but I mistakenly thought that even if I do less, I can still do less really well. Turns out, I can’t. Not only can you do less than you could in your home culture but you also do less less well. It’s just a part of language and cultural acquisition everyone goes through. I’m having to continually reflect on my progress and my current abilities in order to understand if I’m trying to do too much too fast, or if I need to put myself out there and take more risks. One’s first term as a missionary is very humbling and jarring. I waffle between thinking I’m not doing enough or doing far too much. Sometimes the pressure of being responsible not only to God for how we use our time but to all of our partners is overwhelming. It’s a big shock to one’s confidence and feeling of usefulness. At this point, even eating a meal is only by the grace of God.
So what helps?
- Be open and honest about what you are experiencing. Even just talking about it with others and sharing what you are experiencing relieves the pressure you feel.
- Focus on similarities between you and your new host culture. Befriend locals and learn from them.
- Take are of yourself. Find a creative outlet, exercise, eat healthy, rest well.
- Be patient with yourself and learn to laugh at yourself and the many things that are out of your control and beyond your understanding.
- Bring things from your home culture with you, or have people from back in your home culture send items to you that are familiar and comforting.
- Having amazing church friends and family who regularly pray for you and send the occasional email to see how you are doing.
I’ve also found that taking the time to celebrate even the littlest of successes can be very encouraging. When everything, literally everything, is so difficult, a successful phone call in Mandarin is a huge feat! Passing the driver’s test (once again) is amazing! Wrapping up English Club, finishing another Mandarin text book, not getting lost while hiking alone in the mountains…awesome sauce! 🙂
Thank you SO MUCH for your prayers and your support!