Today, we’ll continue to look at the lies you shouldn’t believe when living overseas.
Our first Christmas morning in Indonesia, we were recovering from a nasty stomach bug. Our Christmas phone call with family kept cutting out. And the package from my parents hadn’t made it in time. It certainly didn’t feel like Christmas, but then life had stopped feeling like anything familiar when we’d moved here six months previous.
And then the knock on our door. It was our Muslim Indonesian neighbors coming to celebrate Christmas the Indonesian way—by visiting us. I hadn’t even taken a shower yet. We learned later that the local custom involves receiving guests all day long and feeding them a nice meal. Our friends were gracious—they never mentioned the meal that they may have been expecting.
But in the next few years, we’ve learned how to celebrate both our own American traditions and the local Indonesian ones. It’s busy, can be a little crazy, and we don’t have this balance of culture figured out yet.
But we’ve learned to see the lies as we grow.
Lie #5: You have to give up your own culture.
To assume this is even possible is to not fully understand the depth of culture. It’s not something you can just remove like a jacket. Culture is woven into our ways of doing, thinking, feeling, observing, judging, valuing, spending, planning, sleeping, eating, loving.
To expect to completely go native may leave you feeling inadequate, discouraged, lonely. You don’t have to become them to love them. You don’t have to give up who you are to have something to offer.
Lie #6: You DON’T have to give up your own culture.
On the flip side, you rob yourself of being effective if you assume that your ways are always the best, assume that you can’t change and so you just won’t, and to assume that your culture is never offensive to others.
Let yourself change. Try different ways of thinking like you might try the local cuisine. It may seem a bit strange at first. But after some time, it’s not so bad after all. You may even discover that some of the local culture fits your own personal culture better than your original culture did.
Lie #7: You’re NOT making a difference, so you might as well just go home.
Maybe you expected to be feeding the poor, saving lives, healing the sick—or at least that’s what everyone back home thinks you’re doing. But now you’re just changing diapers, shopping at five different stores for your groceries and chatting with your neighbor about her sick baby, and maybe you don’t even really understand what she’s saying. And it feels so Less Than. Less Than you’d hoped to do. Less Than is needed. Less Than you can possibly do.
Don’t let the lie convince you that you are what you do. Still not convinced? Take some time to watch "It’s a Wonderful Life" to remember how we each become a valuable part of the world around us.
Lie # 8: It’s not wrong, it’s just different.
This lie comes with a half-truth. Many things that seem weird in the local culture are really just different. But some things—like poor treatment of women and children or the poor—really are wrong. You may see it at first—when you’re fresh and notice everything around you. Don’t let yourself simply accept the ills as you adjust to the culture. If it makes you mad, try to do something—anything—to change it.
photo credit, karindalziel