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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Nonsense

In learning a new language, we often compare everything to the one we already know. For example, cow in English. Vaca in Spanish. You take the word you know and assign a new word to it. However, as most people who live in a second culture find, hardly anything ever translates literally. It is more the idea that translates and not so much word for word.

Enjoy a good laugh and check out this slideshow from The Huffington Post about signs no muy buenos.

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Together at last!

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Almost two months to the day after we said goodbye, Edu landed in the USA (Feb. 6). The Lord is good indeed! We could have continued had He showed us that was what He had for us…

“For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Psalm 84:11

However, we are so glad he brought us together again! We’re in full swing with ministry meetings, planning, finding ways to serve locally, and we would love to tell you about it! The majority of our time over the next several months will be invested in three areas…

Training
» Language » Edu is taking advantage of the Adult Ed. English classes made available through our city to help prepare him for the Intensive English Language Institute placement exam on March 10. The IELI program is one of the best in the nation and is available through the University of North Texas. Edu will begin the IELI course on March 23.

» Church resources » There is a wealth of information (books, bible studies, trainings, conferences, etc.) that we are looking to tap into and become better equipped to serve more effectively in Spain.

Serving
» Bible study for Spanish speakers » We recently had coffee with a young couple who have a desire to begin a bible study, through a local church, for Spanish speakers later this month. This has been a desire of theirs for a long time and we are excited about supporting them as they get underway. The cities around us report a Hispanic population between 20-30% which leads us to believe we can definitely put our Spanish to good use.

» Translating and serving with local ministries » In the past, we have volunteered to serve with local ministries that work with community resources and aid. We have offered ourselves as volunteers and translators to several ministries and are looking forward to meeting needs in this way.

Connecting
» Ministry partners » It has been refreshing and encouraging to start meeting with many of you. Some highlights from our recent weeks have been the conversations where we’ve gotten to hear how the Lord is working in your lives, your community of believers, and your church. We’ve found that many of you have a commute of up to two hours to get to/from work! We consider it no small thing that so many of you sacrifice a portion of what you receive to partner with us in sharing Christ with others. We remember you always and would love to know any specific requests that we can be praying for.

» New relationships » It is a joy for us to share about the ways the Lord is working in Spain and the whys/hows we get to be part of that. Many of you have invited us to visit your small group, bible study, and/or Sunday School class, or connect us with someone from the missions committee of your local church–thank you! In order to continue serving in Spain, we must be fully funded. However, our prayer is that the Lord, not us, would lead those that He desires into a relationship to partner with us in sharing the Good News in Spain. We’re looking forward to connecting more with our current partners, and would also love to connect with anyone you think might be interested in knowing more about partnerships and ministry in Spain. Please send us an E-mail, or give us a call.

Praises & Petitions:

  • Praise for the Lord bringing us together again and for all the details that the Lord worked out for Edu to receive his visa.
  • Thanks for the families and individuals that loved us, prayed for us, and encouraged us during our time apart.
  • Please ask the Lord to open doors for new relationships with churches and ministry partners.
  • Please ask that we would continue to grow in the image of Christ, not being conformed to this world, but being transformed by the renewing of our minds, that we may test and discern what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable, and perfect. (Romans 12:2-3)

6 Year Anniversary & Expat FAQ’s

A few days ago I celebrated my six-year anniversary in Spain and I’ve been reflecting on how I’ve adapted to living here. Third culture adaptation can be explained as the mindset and will to love, learn, and serve, even in the midst of pain and discomfort. There have been many uncomfortable moments but in all things, God is good. He’s also been teaching me things that I don’t think I could have learned without living cross-culturally. For instance, He has taught me more about my identity in Him, and not how well I speak a foreign language, or how well I blend in and don’t “look” American. Yes, even when people have poor customer service skills look at me like I’m crazy by how I pronounced something, I’ve learned to love. He has also helped me learn that it’s not about me : ) It is about Him; His glory, His fame, and His kingdom. Consequently, I don’t have to worry about my weaknesses and shortcomings since that gives me an opportunity to trust Him and grow in my identity in Christ.

To help people connect a little more with what life looks like in Spain, I thought I’d answer a few questions regarding ex-pat living and cross-cultural ministry. c5d3e0998b78123eea53bc11783af592

  1. How do you define “home”? Home is increasingly becoming the place where we have our things. While driving back to Catalunya on a recent trip, I commented to Edu that we were going back to the place where all our things are. But, in another sense, the place where we have our things is also the place where we do life and can just be ourselves. Its where I wake up and feel comfortable. It is where we can play with Olivia on the floor. It is where we crowd people around our table and enjoy laughing and good food. If I could recommend something to other people who are considering cross-cultural ministry, I would encourage them to find out what home is for them. For me, home is smells and food. With some essentials, I can re-create this feeling of home just about anywhere.
  2. Is punctuality important to people in Spain? It depends. I would say it depends on the place and the occasion. If it is a time to be at school to leave on a class field trip in Catalunya, you’d better be on time. If it is meeting up with friends in Andalucía, expect them to be an hour late.
  3. What is the most important meal of the day? Without a doubt the most important meal of the day is comida, or lunch. Usually around 2:00PM. This is the heaviest meal of the day usually with two courses, bread, and dessert.
  4. In your family, do you eat foods that are Spanish? Since we are a Spanish-American family, we do both. Not one or the other. Some days we have tortilla de patatas with pan con tomate, or other days we have pulled pork sandwiches with homemade coleslaw.
  5. What is the most important (or most celebrated) holiday in Spain? Again, it depends. If you’re in Catalunya, I would say September 11, also called the Diada. Also Sant Joan, or Sant Jordi, the celebration of the patron saint of Catalunya. In other places, maybe El Día de los Reyes, January 6, or nochevieja, New Year’s Eve.
  6. What language do you speak at home? At home we speak both English and Spanish.
  7. What is communication like in Spain? Again, this depends. But in general, people can be yelling at one another and it isn’t a fight. I would also say that people are very blunt and frank. Things that you wouldn’t normally say to a person in the English culture are often said here. I’ve learned that it isn’t personal and it is normally not an attack.
  8. What is considered most disrespectful in Spain? I had to think a while on this one. There is actually a word for people who do the most disrespectful things. They’re called “sinverguenzas“. It means a person who has no shame. Lately, the most disrespected people and acts are the corrupt authority figures and the injustice they have done without receiving punishment. You can read about that here, here, and here.
  9. What is considered most respectful in Spain? Because Spain is such a nation bound by tradition, not like other EU countries, I think the answer lies therein. Respecting tradition and the past. Giving proper authority to cultural rituals like baptism and first communion or homage paid to saints are considered highly respectful.
  10. What is one of the most commonly held misconceptions about people in Spain? That everyone eats spicy food and loves bullfighting and flamenco. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Spanish food is not a burrito, or chips and salsa. Spanish food is delicious rice dishes with lots of flavor, cured hams, manchego cheeses, fresh seafood, and seasonal fruits and veggies. Regarding the people, where do I even begin? To give you an idea, Spain is a little smaller than Texas, BUT with vastly different people groups in many areas. I guess that is what you get after so much history (former inhabitants included Iberians, Celts, Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths, and Arabs). The variety in languages spoken here alone testifies to this (Castilian Spanish, Valenciano, Catalan, Mallorquín, Basque, and Gallego).
  11. What is the best thing about living in Spain? I love the history. I love seeing buildings and structures that were made in the first few centuries and still standing today. I love seeing how this history has shaped the people and their worldview to who and where they are today. I also consider it a privilege to be among a relatively small group of people here who have a personal relationship with God through his Son Jesus and get to share that with others.
  12. What is the worst thing about living in Spain? Apart from poor customer service, a 33-35% higher cost of living, and the $ to € exchange rate taking up so much of our support, I hate the goodbyes with my parents in the U.S. It was hard when it was just me, but getting married and having a daughter have upped the ante.

Gran Can

We’ve just arrived from visiting family in Gran Canaria.

islascanWhen we visit, it feels almost as if we’ve turned back time a little bit to a different generation. People still make cheese, milk their animals, bake homemade bread, and trade eggs and other garden vegetables with their neighbors. Tastes, sounds and expressions are just a few of the distinctive things I note upon arriving.

Some things I recently heard while on the trip were just too good not to share.

In the context of a family member transitioning from breastfeeding to formula: “The goat dried up.”

“We have food for tomorrow.”: Brother-in-law #2 placing three freshly killed rabbits on the counter next to the microwave.

“Do you want milk?”: You always have to follow-up this question with a question. Is it goat’s milk? Is it raw cow’s milk? Is it from a bottle and been pasteurized? The last option is the only option for me. I call all the other milks “leche salvaje” or “wild or savage milk”.

“If we can do without it, we don’t buy it.”: This is the generational mentality of my in-laws that I was talking about earlier, like fifty or sixty years ago. My jaw just about dropped when I heard this statement. That means you wash clothes by hand –by choice. Or you only eat it if it comes out of the garden, off the farm, or out of the sea. I do understand that they think this way for a reason. Most elderly people in Spain today grew up hungry during a civil war and endured shortages of food.

Brother-in-law #1: “Baifilllllla!!!” Means little goat, referring to my daughter.

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“ChaCha!!” or “ChaCho!!”: They usually say it really loud and it is short for “muchacha” or “muchacho“. An endearing term used for everyone from toddlers to adults.

Brother-in-law #3: “Hola María!”

Krista: “My name isn’t María.”

Brother-in-law #3: “I know.” 

Krista: [Puzzled look] “Then why…”

Brother-in-law #3: “Because I call all women María.”

Krista: “Makes perfect sense.”

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Silbo Gomero: The whistling language of La Gomera

Crazy to think, but yes, there is a whistling language. It is alive and thriving on the island of La Gomera in the Spanish Canary Islands. Some interesting facts about “el silbo gomero”:
-It is taught to children in primary schools throughout the island.
-It is a phonetic language.
-It has more than 4,000 words.

The next few years in Catalunya…

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We recently mentioned the elections here and how the winning party would likely shape the future towards national independence or towards collaboration with the federal government.

Without going into much detail, the winning president (Artur Mas) has clearly stated that one of the party’s fundamental goals in the next four years will be to hold a referendum to form a new European country. Will it actually happen? We don’t know. But we do know that in the meantime, there are many opportunities to listen to people and point them to an eternal citizenship full of hope. Jesus’ word’s to his disciples are very encouraging to us during this time. Our freedoms and food are not the essence of life.

 

“Do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying…your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom and these things will be added to you…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Luke 12:29-34