14 September 2017

Beyond Culture Shock; Culture Pain and Culture Stripping (written by Rachel Pieh Jones)

Rachel Pieh Jones

[I've read a lot about 'culture shock' and 'cross-cultural ministry', but these two new concepts brought up by Jones - 'culture pain and culture stripping' - also resonate with me. The following is an article she wrote at A Life Overseas. You can find the link at the end of the article.]

Expatriates are told to prepare for Culture Shock and expect to experience it within their first year. But what about after 16 years? What about the frustrations and tears, hurt and stress?

After the first year, I thought I was free from culture shock. Now I would delve deep, adapt, feel more local than foreign. So when I continued to struggle with cultural issues and when that struggle increased and peaked around year seven, I thought I was crazy.

I discovered that two things happen, after culture shock, as we root in a land not our own, as we love hard and get involved and take risks.

Culture Pain
Culture pain comes when the difficult, or different, or confusing aspects of a new culture begin to affect you at a deep, personal level. Living overseas is really your life now. This is your past, your present, your future. This is where you laugh and grieve and build a tapestry of memories.

Things like corruption and poor health care, attitudes toward HIV, education of girls, adoption, or poverty, religious rituals, children’s rites of passage, are not theoretical anymore. These issues are now yours to navigate. And sometimes, that hurts.

Culture Stripping
Culture stripping begins the moment you touch the earth in this new place. Culture stripping forever changes who you are.

Culture stripping is the slow peeling back of layers and layers of self. You give up your ideas about politics and faith and family, the books you read evolve and change. Even, potentially, your outlook on spirituality. You have little instinctive protective layers between you and the world.

You are learning, but you will never be local. And so you also are stripped of the idealized image of yourself as a local. This also hurts, but it is a good, purposeful pain.

Glad to see it
This new way of living and seeing the world look different than before you moved overseas. Not perfect, not like anyone else’s, and still sensitive. But different because the shock, the pain, the stripping, have changed you.

And you are glad to see it.
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 -Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

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