The very real effects of culture shock, Part 1

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 from a Christian worldview.
Part 3: What to do about those stresses.


Laundromat in BaƱos, Ecuador. It cost a quarter and they give you
a rock to use to scrub. Soap not included. EPrata photo

In the Introduction to this Culture Shock series, I'd related several expatriate experiences I'd had while visiting abroad for longer than usual vacation periods. There are very real stresses which emerge physiologically, mentally, and emotionally when chooses to dwell in a nation in which one was not born. This fact also applies even when a person has moved from one nation to the next and their native language is spoken in both places, such as moving from the US to the UK, or Canada to Australia. Culture shock is a real event.

I'd mentioned that in these days with quickly shifting cultural sands disorienting us and putting us off balance, Christians experience a similar culture shock. The earth is not our home. In that sense we are expatriates. Our citizenship is in heaven.

Expatriates find that they experience stress while living abroad. In this essay I'll look at the stresses expatriates experience from a secular perspective. In the next essay I'll compare these stresses to the Christian's experience of living on earth while not being OF the earth, heaven's expatriates, as it were.

I do want to mention that I'm not a fan of Psychology or secular counseling, but the fact is the body and mind do go through physiological changes when living under pressure in an unfamiliar culture in which one is NOT trying to assimilate. It's hard when we are in the world but not trying to reach the world nor adopt the world's habits. Let's acknowledge it's stressful. The following is from The Expat Exchange. Though they were written for the secular Expat, one can see the pattern can be applied to the citizen of Heaven in today's hostile World. I'll explore this more in the next essay. And incidentally, I am sure that missionaries are given a thorough grounding in what to expect when moving overseas, but the shock of adjusting to being there can't be learned from a classroom, but experienced mentally, physically and emotionally.

Top Ten Reasons why Expats get stressed
1) Long and unusual work hours due to doing business in different time zones and a 70%-of-the-year travel schedule for the working spouse.
2) A "trailing expat spouse" who has given up a career to move abroad with his or her working spouse and is adjusting to not only a new country, but a new lifestyle.
3) New stresses for our expat children: a new school, new multi-cultural friends, a different native language, new teachers and teaching methods, and not to mention, full immersion into a culture other than their own.
4) As new expats, our most comfortable support system of friends and family have gone from being neighbors and parents to voices on the phone or words on an email. Creating a new local support system takes a lot of time and emotional energy, and can be a stressful endeavor, especially for first time expats.
5) A certain amount of lost independence due to language barriers is stressful, making everything from arranging for house repairs to ordering a pizza over the phone very frustrating.
6) The dynamics of an expat marriage inevitably change with the new responsibilities and roles that come along with a move overseas, creating a certain amount of stress for each spouse.
7) For "Single Global Professionals," between building a social network outside of work without the benefit of a spouse, and not having a sense of "community" or roots, being abroad alone can be both a stressful and lonely place to be.
8) Finances. In many instances, home leaves, house hold expenses and medical procedures/visits are all paid out-of-pocket before employer reimbursement (depending on your employer situation), so having a healthy savings account and good credit is a must to move abroad.
9) Being Unhappy. Having a negative attitude or feelings about where you are; unrealistic expectations of your new life in your new country, and expecting perfectionism from yourself and the culture around you is a breeding ground for self-induced stress and a recipe for marital unhappiness. Your unhappiness is a feeling even your children pick up on.
10) Poor stress coping skills.
Ponder these, and think about them both in terms of the intent of the original article aimed toward secular expats, but also think of them in terms of being a Christian expat. Tomorrow, I'll re-phrase the above top ten stresses into Christian expat stresses and perhaps they will speak to what you may be going through.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

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 from a Christian worldview.
Part 3: What to do about those stresses.


Further reading

How can Believers be in the world but not of the World?

What does it mean for Christians to be in the world but not of the world?

Blog Series at Grace to You, In the World, but not of it