Nearly everyone who travels to another culture experiences disorientation. You may find that usual strategies for understanding and navigating the world no longer work. There may be some embarrassing moments. Disappointment with yourself and others, anxiety, and frustration build up and erupt in anger, tears, blame, and exhaustion. That’s culture stress … or in its more extreme form, culture shock.
But don’t be too discouraged. While cultural differences are inevitable, full-fledged culture shock is not. And when it comes, it seldom lasts for long. Count it a privilege to have experienced a little bit of what those who came with a one-way ticket may go through more deeply or more regularly. Your bout with culture shock is an opportunity to learn and grow.
Several things can help:
1. Learn about yourself, your limits and your biases.
Some mission trips will really push you to do things you’ve never done before, and most will sometimes require you to sacrifice your preferences. When choosing a trip, try to discern how much of a cultural leap you are willing and ready to take. See these two articles:
- Taking Your First Mission Trip, by Steve Collins
- Discover the Best Short-term Mission for You, by Steve Hawthorne
2. Learn about common cultural differences.
Few of us realize how many of our values, assumptions, and ways of doing things are far from universal – at least until we venture into another culture. To get a head start on some of the usual points of conflict, see these two articles:
- Preparing to Cross Cultures: Understanding Common Differences, by David Armstrong
- Culture intelligence & assessments, on a blog by David Livermore, global thinker and author.
To go deeper, read one of these books:
- Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships, by Sherwood Lingenfelter and Marvin Mayers
- Cross-cultural Connections: Stepping Out and Fitting in Around the World, by Duane Elmer
Better yet, learn all you can about the specific places and peoples you will visit. Look for books and videos as well as articles online. Our resource list on researching countries is a good place to start.
3. Learn about culture shock itself, how it works, and what you can do about it.
You’ll be better able to recognize and respond to culture shock if you talk to someone about it or read up on the topic in advance. See these two articles:
- Handling Culture Shock on a Mission Trip, from Adventures in Missions
- Understanding Culture Stress, by Howard Culbertson
Did you find this article helpful? Any suggestions you’d add? Send us an email.