The very real effects of culture shock, Introduction

This is an Introduction to a series.

Part 1: Examine the very real effects of expatriate living and culture shock.

Part 2: Examine the very real effects of expatriate living and culture shock on the Christian, this time comparing the effects through a lens of the Christian worldview.

Part 3: What to do about those stresses.


Visible Christianity as it has been known for these past decades is declining in the West. Of course the true church still spotless and gleaming white. But the surface "Christian-y" (not Christianity) culture in America is fast falling away. It has been a disorienting process for some. The ground is made of shifting violently sand, and especially unaware or new Christians, have been put off balance.

Friends quickly anger if you talk negatively about a favored idol-teacher. Facebook comment sections blow up in anger from previously mild-mannered friends. Family members are irritated by all your Jesus talk. Work spaces no longer tolerate your prayer lunch group- if it's Christian. Muslim employees receive a private prayer room and Halal cafeteria. Portrayals of our faith in media have become simply cartoonish. All this and more gives the Christian coming to terms with the new normal (read: hostile world) a feeling of upset and disorientation.

It's culture shock. That is because the moment we're justified, our citizenship transfers from the world to heaven. We become expatriates, dwelling in a place that is not our home any longer.

I've mentioned before on this blog and my other blog that during the 1990s I traveled widely. My husband and I loved to pick up and go, and the sub-text was that we would also keep our eyes open for a warm weather, inexpensive place to winter over. Maine is cold. Brrr.

We spent time in Florida, Texas, the desert of the American Southwest, but also the Bahamas, and Ecuador. We traveled to Europe but it seemed too expensive to become an expatriate in those places. The European Union hadn't been formed yet, and even after it was, the borders were still pretty tight in those early days. Of course as Maine residents, we visited Canada frequently but as a winter getaway for snowbirds, well, it defeats the purpose.

The sprawling city of Quito, Ecuador. EPrata photo
We liked Ecuador a lot. At the time, American money would last a long time there. The government had been pretty stable, and thanks to Ecuadoreans we knew, we were given a tour from north to south. My husband I liked Cuenca, a colonial city of universities and at a lower altitude than Quito. The height of Quito's location at nearly 10,000 feet made for pretty thin air and a long time to cook anything, so we liked Cuenca which was at about 8200 feet above sea level. Warm, but not hot like at the seacoast or the jungle.

When we were in Quito, we found a cool bookstore called Confederate Books. It is touted as South America's best selection of English-language books. Indeed, I found a rare Brautigan there. We spoke to the owner, who was from America, for a long time about what it is like to live as an "ex-pat." An Expatriate is someone who lives outside their native country. It's a person who is settled in another land. We were considering living in Ecuador for the mild winters down at the equator. Though we were in Ecuador for a month, we knew there was a huge difference between visiting and living in a third world nation.
Culture shock is an experience a person may have when one moves to a cultural environment which is different from one's own; it is also the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, or a move between social environments... Source
After our conversation at Confederate Books, we emerged into the strong equatorial light onto Amazonas St, which is the bustling main shopping street in the high-altitude city of millions, we began walking toward where the restaurants were. My husband had a special kind of belt where he kept the money and copies of our passports for ID etc. Since we were always together, he carried the money and papers for us both. Pickpockets were a huge problem. As we walked, we began talking as we were jostled in the crowd, and then we began arguing. I don't remember what over. Angry, at one point I turned on my heel and stomped off in the other direction.

The crowd quickly closed in and within a minute I realized I had done something very stupid. I was a woman alone, in a non-English speaking country (and not many Quitenos spoke English) and I had no ID and no money. It was in my husband's belt, who had now disappeared from sight and was lost in the crowd. I couldn't even take a cab back to the rental apartment, nor was there anyone home for me to call even if I managed to find a phone, scrape some coins, and know how to dial in a third world country. (This was pre-cell phone days). Suddenly my sunny shopping day was fraught with danger and anxiety. I quickly turned around and hustled to find my husband.

Life as an expatriate requires significant effort to adapt to new social and cultural environments. Source
In my inaugural trip of my decade of traveling, I spent a month alone in Italy. The first week was with an ex-pat American family my mother had known. The last two weeks I was going to meet up with a group and I would participate in an archaeological dig. So in reality I was only totally on my own for a week. I wanted to make my way down from Milan where the plane had landed, to the Italian Riviera to Siena, Florence, then Rosia, the little Tuscan town where the dig was going to happen.

What living in Italy for a week all on my own meant was that reading train schedules, ordering food in a restaurant, finding the grocery store, completing a reservation at a hotel, had to be done by no one else but me, all by myself in a foreign language with no support system. Finding attractions, safely walking the streets, handling money and making sure I received the correct change, etc, was all very taxing. Not knowing what to do with even the smallest of details gives you a fight or flight feeling. One is never sure if one is stumbling into a dangerous situation or not. All the signals are mixed.

Me in Portofino, Italy

Traveling from Portofino to Florence we hurtled through mountains and the train would go through tunnels. At one point I was standing outside my little compartment and a nice looking well dressed Italian gentleman tried to start a conversation. I had no clue if he was hitting on me, casing my pockets, or something else. It was something else. He said through gestures that when we go thru a tunnel it's a good time for pickpockets to grab what they can from your person or your luggage. He was patiently trying to give me a warning. He recommended sitting back in my compartment with my valuables on me. I went from being scared of him to being scared of pickpockets during the brief but frequent tunnel blackouts.

When you're alone in a strange land, you have no idea who is a threat or what situation is safe or could lead to disaster. You have no idea that a benign situation could suddenly explode into a dangerous one, or a trying one, or a misunderstanding one. Your normal reactions are all off.

Culture shock is a real thing. Shock being the focus. Here is some information from Expat Exchange on the stress of living abroad in another culture. Here is the ExPat Exchange-
It only takes six weeks and one foreign language for the average expat to figure out that life overseas is not for the faint of heart. ...
What is stress?
According to "stress is a particular pattern of disturbing psychological and physiological reactions that occur when an environment event threatens important motives and taxes one's ability to cope. In plain English, stress is the "wear and tear" our bodies experience as we adjust to our continually changing environment."
This 4-part series is one of encouragement. Here is the point, if you have not seen it by now.

Christians are expatriates.

Let me say that again. This world is not our home. We are born on earth, we live on earth, and we are OF the world ... until the moment of justification. When we are saved, our citizenship immediately transfers to Heaven, and we become strangers in this land. (Philippians 3:20). Those around us are enemies of us becuase they are at enmity with the God in us. (Romans 8:7). We still live here, but we are strangers. We think of heaven, we long for heaven, we are of heaven. (Colossians 3:2). The citizens of earth consider us their enemy (consciously or unconsciously). We are not of this world, but we are still in this world. (John 17:14–19).

Lately, pressures have been building even for those fortunate enough to have been placed by God in nations where persecution is not overtly occurring. Christians are finding that we are standing on very shifting sand as expatriates. The times are changing rapidly and hostility against us here in the former land of free speech are living through a culture shift that, taxes our ability to cope. As the ExPat Exchange site mentioned, living for a prolonged time in a nation that is not our own and is in fact hostile to us taxes us to the point of stress, where physiological reactions occur.

Culture shock, personal loss, and discouragement are at all time highs, just as discernment is at all time lows. It's taxing all right.

Of course, over this series, I will reiterate that unlike earthly expatriates, we have the Spirit in us to help us live tranquilly even if everything around us is being dismantled. So our experience isn't exactly like other expatriates, but it is similar and I'd like for us to recognize the real stresses many of the brethren are enduring.

This was the introduction. So what's next?

Part 1: Examine the very real effects of expatriate living and culture shock.

Part 2: Examine the very real effects of expatriate living and culture shock on the Christian, this time comparing the effects through a lens of the Christian worldview.

Part 3: What to do about those stresses.


  1. Lately it seems everywhere I turn I see many Christians start longing for heaven. Our pastor has been preaching more and more about heaven lately and I see prominent preachers like John MacArthur dealing with the same topic on his sermons. Personally I feel like the world has lost its luster and I'm thinking more about our real home in my devotions. Could it be that the Spirit is impressing upon us that our departure us near? Sigh. Either way, Maranatha!

  2. In my 60 years I've seen culture not only change but slide down a slope faster than an Olympic skier! It boggles my mind that things that were unthinkable or unspeakable even 20 years ago are now commonplace. Virtue, morals, self-control and restraint, and what used to be called class has fallen by the wayside. But the most heartbreaking thing I've witnessed is the erosion of Christianity, the public mocking of believers and our faith, the abundance of false teachers, and the 'dumbing down' of doctrine and theology.

  3. The pix titled "Me in Portofino, Italy" & a very nice you it is indeed.
    But - did you only take the one pix ?
    Sharing is caring - if no one else does - I love looking at photo's


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