How is culture stress different from culture shock?
Perhaps some of you are wondering why I am using the term culture stress instead of culture shock in this blog. Well quite simply they are two different things. Culture shock is like a wave of shock that impacts you when you are first adjusting to a new culture. Culture stress is the ongoing pressure that you live with when you live in another culture or country than the one in which you were raised.
Culture Shock is what hit us within the first few months of arriving in Hungary. Initially, we had a honeymoon period. Everything was new, and we loved it! We moved from this to the crisis stage a stage which made us wonder what on earth we had done. It would be true to say that I experienced deep depression as a result. In fact culture, shock changed me from someone who not only saw the glass as half full or even overflowing into someone who wondered if there even was a glass!
It was a welcome relief to enter the recovery stage of transition. It was then that we felt a little less wobbly on our feet in this new country. The adjustment phase follows the recovery stage. We are still in that stage, many changes have had to be made as a result of our move the biggest being learning a new language. The shock though is in the past.
Many people, not on the field, think that a missionary just needs to get past the culture shock, but they don’t realise the ongoing cultural stress. Shock is sudden and short-lived. You can cope with feeling out of control or disorientated for a short period. There is a sense of relief when finally the language and the cultural clues become much more familiar.
The Adjustment Stage
The adjustment stage is when you start to accept the new environment and a lot changes as a result. We know that we have changed some of our ways of doing things as a result of living here. You might wonder how long this stage can last: the answer is how long is a piece of string? Some missionaries never reach the stage that the adjustment is complete, and they feel like they belong. In our case, it doesn’t mean becoming Hungarian but rather bicultural. We are praying that we will be able to graduate to that point sometime in the future.
Our stress level would have been reduced if we had chosen to live in what has been termed the “missionary ghetto.” This doesn’t have to mean living on a compound; we can still have a ghetto mentality even if we live in the national community. It is very tempting to fall into a missionary subculture and have our primary relationships with other missionaries. We have often found it to be a welcome relief to have a coffee with other missionaries working here, in fact, it has been good stress therapy. It certainly isn’t wrong to spend time with other missionaries, but we have to keep focused though on our primary purpose and not get sidetracked.
When we feel stressed or overwhelmed we have to remember that God is there for us. He wants us to communicate with Him.
1 Peter 5:7 (NIV) Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
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