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100 Days In-Country Today: Some Candid Reflections on Culture Shock

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Somewhere along the way, either before we left the US or as soon as we arrived in Thailand, someone told us that the sneaky thing about it all was that when culture shock hit, we wouldn’t even know it. How, I wondered, can one not know, in the midst of such life-upheaving, gut-turning transition that she is experiencing culture shock?!

I have some evidences:

  • a month-long inability to sum up anything into a 500-to-1000-or-so word blog post. I’m clearly overwhelmed.
  • My tendency to order only a small handful of Thai dishes over and over at the local market instead of branching out, though even Pad Thai can grow mundane (you don’t believe me, I know). I just need to review the other national dishes we learned about in language class and go for it.   
  • My request that Brenden be the one to go shopping searching at large stores and markets for any and everything that we might need, across the broad spectrum. (I do enjoy buying produce at our favorite near-by market). I’ll probably have more energy tomorrow to have a go at it and maybe it won’t be so hot. 
  • My paralysis in trying to furnish this home of ours. Well, when was the last time I had to furnish a place from the ground up? Of course it’s (there’s that word again) overwhelming. 
  • How slowly I move in our non-airconditioned downstairs in 90 degree weather. And how many ants can find the speck of food left on the counter (let alone leftover dinner sitting out for an hour). Maybe I just need more sleep.

But it’s never been about culture shock.

I simply did not look at this culture and say, “I’m shocked!” (except when driving initially, house-hunting, and buying our kitchen table).

I resounded more closely with the phrase “transition-shock” that another new-to-Thailand friend coined. Yes, I thought, transition is hard work. Settling in is happening more  S  L  O  W  L  Y   than I would have previously imagined.

**********************************************************************

Then, on our way to dinner last night (a glorious date I set up whole days before Brenden returned from Myanmar), I almost lost it. That can’t-live-with-it/can’t-live-without-it app called Google Maps decided, once again, that it would not be my friend.

Why is she talking to YOU and not to ME???!!!

Google Maps, who has frozen up on me and side-lined me to the berm of the highway the few times I’ve driven by myself to new locations at night, putting me in foul moods when I should have been excited to meet a girlfriend for coffee or eager to visit the migrant workers our agency serves. At one point prior, Brenden and I had synced our phones while driving, so that the near-instantaneous echo of the Google Maps Lady coming out of both of our phones, and the tracker that moved forward steadily and accurately on both of our phones, were sweeter evidences of God’s mercies than anything else I’d experienced that day (week?).

But last night, try as we might, she wouldn’t cooperate with me, and we spent many precious minutes of our date comparing settings on our phones and trying to bring me down from RED, because the implications are that it is certainly difficult to be independent and mobile without that tool to help get me around this large city, as I’m directionally challenged and unable to read Thai (signs) yet. I felt helpless in that moment. We thought we had fixed the problem. Two steps forward, one step back. Again.

Conversation flowed into other impasses that felt heavy and impending, and in the beauty of free-flowing conversation, the kind with no agenda to even understand or fix but rather to just cleanse, we did find some understanding.

And its name is culture shock.

It’s that when there are technological problems, I don’t have my go-tos for help. It’s the guilt of having modern-day amenities like technology or having a safe and comfortable home here, knowing other cross-cultural workers’ standards of living across the world are much more rudimentary or unsafe, not to mention the people we came here to serve. It’s that buying household items looks differently than it does in the States (often with a 2-week delivery delay and even more importantly–no CraigsList), and furniture costs more too, than what we’d have typically chosen to pay, forcing a redefinition of our values and a letting-go of what we thought something was “worth”, based on a new reality of prices.

One of the ways culture shock rubs (me) is that the ways we’ve always known of doing things, of accomplishing tasks, of finding forward motion, they’ve changed. And the more subtle or covert this change is, the harder it is to identify. This is the case living in Chiang Mai, which can feel so Western and have so many modern amenities, while still being a developing country. If our family were living and working in a part of the world that had no access to smart phone directions, for example, my expectations and daily strategies for driving would look very different.

Thankfully, I’ve had wise friends assure me that these stack-upon-stack of stressors are all within the scope of a cross-cultural worker’s first term. That they culminate in a variety of wearisome emotions that are hard to identify as cultural adjustment, and that the first steps in coping are recognition and then acceptance of the process.

As my mother-in-law once said: “How do you eat an elephant?” “One bite at a time.” 

So over the next few days as I post pictures of all the beauty we’ve experienced over the past month, know that it’s happening alongside some gritty, growing, stretching times too. It all melds into one big, sticky, messy, beautiful, wouldn’t-want-to-be-anywhere-else kind of life. So here’s to the next 100 days and what they will hold.

love you all,
becca

PS: Brenden arrived home safe and sound. The squeals from these kids as they ran to him–incredible. (More on his trip soon.)
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16 thoughts on “100 Days In-Country Today: Some Candid Reflections on Culture Shock

  1. One day at a time; one moment at a time. I can so relate to some of this from our travels to S. America, but I always know I am going home soon. Bless you!

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  2. Thanks Lilly, for reminding me I’m not alone.

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  3. Hi!! I miss you! Enjoyed this post on many levels- your honesty, the humor in it all (from an outsiders-uninvolved perspective), Maja’s belly in the photo at the bottom, Emerson’s face of joy and knowing that Brenden is back with all of you! and more!

    I want you to know you are totally normal. What you described is “textbook.” But I also want you to have some “tools”/resources to help you at times like this so, please read this tip I wrote:

    http://eepurl.com/YgWyH

    Circle the things in the top section that resonate with you.

    Then choose 2 or 3 strategies for coping from the bottom section.

    We can talk this through if this would be helpful to you.

    Also, for some encouragement:

    http://eepurl.com/C5il5

    Hugs and much love and I hope we get to hang out soon again… I’m home with Silas tomorrow (Tuesday) morning again and will be home with him also on Thursday morning if either time works for you.

    Laur

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  4. Way to be raw and not sugar coat. Hang in there!

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  5. MY heart aches for your difficulties and frustration but thankful for your incite to see positives and reason you went and sharing so openly that we might pray for you all better much love HUGS Dad M. Psalm 31:24 and Phil. 4:19

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  6. I love that airport picture. The simplicity of kids.

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  7. You are not alone. It sounds like you are doing AWESOME with all the changes and responsibility that you have ! Thanks for your honesty and sharing. I’ve felt overwhelmed with a myriad of problems at home in the good ole USA and this sure helps put my “difficulties” into perspective. GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL YOU ARE DOING to further the glory of God ! Prov 3:5-6 are my all time favorites 🙂

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  8. soo grateful for this update!! hang in there, sweet friend. and grieve when things are hard. nothing good comes from pretending. may you experience his new mercies every single morning! sending love and prayers, julie

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  9. I can’t even fathom the sounds from Maja and Emerson when they saw their Daddy not to mention their hugs and squeezes and kisses! Hey, Brenden, as I was adoring my grandchildren in the picture, I couldn’t help but spot the “Black Canyon Coffee” shop in the background! If you keep going on these trips, you might need to try it out and let me know how good that coffee is! If it’s good enough, I might just have to fly out there to join you. As for you Becca, not enough thanks for the posts and the wonderfully taken pictures! You must know how important those pics and reports are to your parents (all four of us). We appreciate your time and effort to keep us updated. Know that you are CONTINUALLY and DAILY in our prayers.

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