From {Texas} with Love: Culture Shock

from Texas with Love...

Culture Shock: n. the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.

When I (Edu) think about culture shock, one of the first things that comes to mind is the church culture here. From what I have observed, there are various pastors, meetings, committees, and other layers of organization. One example that I remember is when we went to the “Connections” area of a church, were given an E-mail address to contact the Director of Connections, who put us in touch with the Director of Operations, who we had coffee with, and are now waiting to be contacted via E-mail by another church staff member. In Spain, these layers of organization simply don’t exist. If a church in Spain has one seminary-trained pastor, they would be doing better than most.

Do’s and Don’ts of American Culture
(Taken from the Cultural Orientation Guidelines of the UNT IELI Program)
Don’t get drunk.
Don’t run from the police.
Put on deodorant.
Take a shower every day.                                                                                                                                  Don’t speak loudly to the teacher, this could be interpreted as anger or being aggressive.

Being in a different country highlights the (sometimes silly) differences when you compare one culture to another. Something I appreciate very much here is the general respect that professors/teachers are given. In my English program at the University of North Texas (IELI) they prepare us to respect our teachers as authority figures. In my culture, the people have a general loss of respect for the teachers and professors.

Of course, language is the most difficult part of culture shock for me. This struggle follows me in most areas of daily life; banking, driving/transportation, giving a food order, etc. I always take a moment to gear up before I know I will need to speak and think about what I want to say and try to put the words together in my head. Much to my frustration, I sometimes have the words in my head, but they don’t come out like I planned.

Something that has been a great encouragement to me in my time here is that people don’t mind repeating themselves (as many times as it takes) so that I can understand. It is an example of kindness to me and it helps me learn.

Through this transition and season of change I’m learning to be patient and how to manage my emotions and my frustration. This season sometimes feels like a dry time in the dessert with the hope of arriving at an oasis to find fresh waters. This fresh water is of course the live-giving truth of the gospel. But it is also practically seen when I am able to understand and be understood. I don’t think progress or success is not struggling, but instead learning to struggle well. I also think progress would mean not feeling as embarrassed when I make a mistake ; )

The truth is, anyone who has ever lived in another culture or found themselves the odd one out in a situation has felt these things. When I (Krista) first moved to Spain and realized I had grossly overestimated my language level, I found myself feeling the same way as Edu.

When American ex-pats arrive in Spain without knowing the language, a question I’m (Krista) often asked is “How long did it take you to learn Spanish?” The question behind that question is, “How long do I have to suffer?”or “How long will it be difficult for me?” To give an answer with an amount of time really isn’t fair and I prefer to say something like, “How are you doing with it? It is a process (aren’t most things?), and isn’t it encouraging that our worth and value aren’t caught up in how well we do (or don’t) speak a language? It is caught up in the righteousness of Christ and our identity being found in Him.

Thank you for being the hands and feet of all of this. Part of being back is “learning”, but it is a privilege to represent you in the ministry activities we do on a weekly basis, like using a skill we already have—speaking Spanish! Through spontaneous acts of service, planned interpreting, conversations with church leaders about how to serve the Spanish speaking community, or just a casual conversation with a native Spanish speaker, we have enjoyed serving others and helping point them to Jesus and his wonderful story of redemption.

Thank you!

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