Culture Stress 101

We try to keep this blog rather upbeat, sharing with you the successes and joys of the ministry. However, we also desire to keep our life honest before you, our supporters and friends. In doing so, we felt we needed to tell you a little about life these days.

            Month #7 is upon us and we are beginning to see where all of our cultural training last year is going to come in handy! We always knew it was going to be useful, but we didn’t know when and we certainly didn’t know exactly how.

            “Culture Stress” (not necessarily “shock”) affects a person in a variety of ways. The most obvious are physically and mentally. Although a lot of people don’t realize that physical health can be directly related to culture stress, it sure is a good indicator that one is experiencing it. The mental aspect is a little more subtle and if one is not willing to talk about it, others may never know they are experiencing it. But, people tend to become more reclusive and to back out of things that are out of their comfort zone and begin to do only things they are completely comfortable with – or things that remind them of the life they left behind.

            We, personally, are experiencing culture STRESS (emphasis on the STRESS) in a variety of ways right now. Our health has not been where it should be. We both got hit with nasty head colds and for Brian, that meant lying in bed for two days straight – something that never happens. We both feel that getting these colds was merely the culmination of weeks of stress and misunderstandings with our co-workers, extra responsibilities, and just plain STRESS of the ministry.

            Culture Stress is also affecting us mentally. We’re finding ourselves to be more negative towards our responsibilities and our teammates than ever before. Things that never bothered us before about our jobs or our teammates are bothering us BIG time now. Things that never used to stress us out or make us upset are definitely doing that now. We’re trying hard to keep these negative thoughts, feelings, and attitudes from affecting us, but to be brutally honest – it can be really hard.

            To give you an idea of what adapting to another culture is like, imagine these circumstances:

  • Everybody around you speaks another language, a language you’re not completely familiar with.
  • They believe you understand more than what you actually do, so they no longer translate or aid in any way.
  • But, you don’t understand. So, you pester them with questions. They get frustrated that you don’t understand yet and start making it obvious that it’s YOUR fault for not knowing the language.
  • You get left out of events and activities because they don’t think you’d want to participate (because you’re not from their country) and they don’t really know what to do with you anyway.
  • The weather, climate, and seasons are completely opposite to what you have experienced your entire life. All the plants and allergens are brand new – some you’ve never even seen before. And you’re now exposed to illnesses you’ve never had, therefore, you have no natural immunity built up to fight them.
  • Food is very different. Everything is watered with sewer water, therefore nothing is particularly safe to eat without extensive cleaning and sanitizing. However, you can’t be careful 100% of the time, so something always seems to sneak by – whether it be a piece of fruit not washed in chlorinated water or fresh juice made from tap water.
  • Because you are the only person from another country working in this area, nobody understands exactly how careful you need to be in what you eat and they get frustrated with how frequently you seem to get sick. They also don’t realize they need to help you find your way around and fill you in on normal happenings. They tend to forget that you have not been a life-long resident.
  • You are thousands of miles from family and friends. You miss out on babies, weddings, birthdays, special events, and holidays. People tend to forget you because you’re so far away, so you feel completely left out of the loop of information most of the time. So, you begin to feel disconnected from that side of the ocean… while feeling disconnected from the area you’re supposed to be getting connected to.

 So, here we are. In no way, shape, or form do we want to return to the States. We are by no means dissatisfied by our life, our jobs, or our ministry. We have made some wonderful friends and are making great progress in language and feeling like we know where and how we fit in down here.

We are, however, asking that you pray for us during this difficult time. We knew culture STRESS would hit us eventually – it was inevitable! But, it’s up to us how far we sink into the stress of it all and it’s up to us on how we handle it. We need your prayers! We need your encouragement! You may think that mailing us a hand-written note, talking about life and nothing in particular, is a waste of time – let me tell you, it’s NOT. Being remembered, either by email or snail mail or whatever, is one of the BIGGEST ways you could help us out right now. We’re approaching the holiday season and down here, of course, it’s NOT the holiday season, minus Christmas. So, everything is different. We’re heading into genuinely HOT weather, no snow, no fall beauty. We’re ending the school year and beginning summer – not starting the school year and beginning winter. We can’t find a turkey, and stuffing and cranberry sauce are nowhere to be had. Ham is extremely expensive and scalloped potatoes are unheard of.

So…. Pray for us. Things are not always bleak and we really do love where we’re at. We know God has brought us here, therefore He will carry us through. Thanks for thinking of us!

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One thought on “Culture Stress 101

  1. Hey,
    I understand that whole thing! When I got married there, Renzo and I had just both turned 20, and I had to leave him to come back here for 1 TEST to check for ovarian cystes. I was here for 5 weeks, newlywed, REALLY YOUNG, then went back to Peru just before Thanksgiving. There were a few Americans down the street who taught at the Christian school in La Molina who invited us for Thanksgiving dinner, American style, but neglected to let me know when or where. We had Renzo’s family over for noodles and a sort of pasta sauce with butter and bread. That was my Thanksgiving there. Then we did Christmas Compartiendos for 10 days straight, as the leaders, and got home Christmas Eve around midnight only to find out that we had no power, so we could only get into the security gate for our apartment with our key that had just accidentally been taken in Renzo’s backpack by one of our team members by bus to Callao. And we had all of Renzo’s family arriving around 12:30 that night for “Christmas” Peruvian style. Christmas Day, we did nothing but sleep, then wake up and watch soccer, and have bread and tea for lunch. WOW!!!! I understand, and that was just minor!
    When we are there, Renzo and I hope to be a great encouragement to you! We understand BOTH cultures, having already lived in both, and maybe help others understand you guys and us better. Love you! Jen :o)

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