Culture Shock – It’s Good For You

“Culture Shock” – the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.

Before I arrived at Youth With A Mission (YWAM) Perth, I really was only exposed to one culture: American. The United States is very diverse in itself and can have many subcultures that thrive there, but my specific subculture was white suburbia. There wasn’t a whole lot of diversity. Everyone drove similar cars and strived for similar life goals. It was comfortable; safe.

YWAM, however, is overflowing with hundreds of cultures and subcultures. We have people from South Africa, Sweden, China, Portugal, Canada, and the list goes on and on. For a girl like me, who has lived in the same town and same house my entire life, it was a little overwhelming. Getting used to so many accents was difficult enough, but there is so much more to discover about people than their slang or ethnicity. Not only was I adjusting to different people but I also had to get used to a whole new country. I thought Australia was very similar to North America before coming here, but I quickly realised I was wrong. The cars drove on the opposite side of the road and there wasn’t a Starbucks in sight.

The issue of culture shock

The problem with culture shock comes when we decide to act in fear because of it.

I was experiencing culture shock and hard. Culture shock is simply the feeling of confusion or anxiousness when confronted with a culture, society, or way of living that is different from your own. There is nothing wrong with feeling culture shock; it’s normal and natural. The problem with culture shock comes when we decide to act in fear because of it. Just because one culture or people group acts differently to mine, doesn’t make them wrong or something to be uneasy with. Growing up in the USA, it was very easy to fall into the “I’m right, you’re wrong” mentality. If someone’s opinion didn’t match mine, then there was something wrong with them.

It’s a process of making active choices to not live in fear.

Was I confronted with people who acted differently than I do? Yes. Was I confused as to why everything closes so early here in Australia? Absolutely (seriously, though, 5:00 p.m. is just too early). My temptation was toturned my nose up and say that people in Sweden are doing it wrong or that Australians don’t know what they’re doing. I’m glad that I didn’t. Although I was overwhelmed by meeting so many people, I didn’t let that fear get to me. I chose to not act out of my discomfort, but to act out of love. It wasn’t a simple flip of a switch and I suddenly wasn’t nervous about new people. It’s a process of making active choices to not live in fear. Who am I to say my own culture is the best way live? Heaven isn’t going to be all white suburban families with their white picket fences and two children; it’s going to be people from all over the world.

Understanding that God created the different cultures and loves seeing other people praise Him through their cultures was seriously eye-opening.

Unity in diversity

YWAM Perth is a little slice of heaven. People from the ends of the earth shouting and declaring God’s authority and power in our own languages and ways of expression. Where I first was uneasy or confused by other people’s culture or way of thinking, I now get excited and feel overjoyed to learn more about it. We are called to be like Christ in every way. Jesus loved reaching out to people who weren’t culturally normal. Ephesians 2:17-18 states, “He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.” Jesus came to bring peace between the Jews and the Gentiles, two people who were at odds for years. We too should make peace between one another, regardless of cultural backgrounds or nationality.

YWAM holds strong on “Unity in Diversity.” We support and encourage the different cultures from around the globe that live here. But, regardless of where we come from, we have one goal: to know God and make God known. We all love Jesus immensely and depend on Him for all that we have. We also have a deep desire to see people come to know God in an intimate way. Mark 16:15 says, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation,” meaning that we are to step out of our own little world and go cross-culturally and help people who are not like us.

What’s the benefit of culture shock?

But once the discomfort begins to wear off, and you can see the people for who they really are, that’s when God can move.

So, why is experiencing culture shock a good thing? The answer is pretty simple: it stretches us. When we become uncomfortable in a situation, for the right reasons, we learn to grow and adapt as a person. God doesn’t want us to be so absorbed in our own culture or society that we become desensitised to other human beings around us. Just think- roughly seven billion people experienced this exact day in totally different and interesting ways. Before I came to YWAM I was sheltered and ignorant to different countries other than my own. But, through the teachings and interactions with others, I am reaching more of a biblical worldview. This means that all aspects of how I see the world, relationships, routines, statuses and responsibilities, are viewed through the lens of the Bible. What does the Bible say about relationships? What does it say about going cross culture? Questions like these have definitely changed how I look at my ever-expanding view of the world.

I’ve reached a point where meeting new people from different countries isn’t scary or nerve-wracking, but I look forward to it. Have I suddenly become immune to culture shock and nothing can phase me? Absolutely not. When I go to outreach I will experience culture shock. If I ever go to Europe or Africa I will experience culture shock. When I come home back to my once so familiar home I will experience culture shock. That’s the beauty of travel; you’re going to experience culture shock. But once the discomfort begins to wear off, and you can see the people for who they really are, that’s when God can move.