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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner

The Cycle of Culture Shock

It is consoling when we are in culture shock to know that we are normal human beings and that in time the traumas of adjusting to a new culture will end. Furthermore, a knowledge of how culture shock progresses can help us to deal with it and turn it into a positive experience that prepares us for our future ministry. The first year or two is crucial in our adaptation to a new culture. How we adjust during this time will color our ministry for the rest of our lives.

Kalervo Oberg (1960:177- 182) traces the steps we normally take in learning to live in a new cultural setting.

The Tourist Stage

Our first response to a new culture is fascination. We live in hotels, with other missionaries, or in homes not too different from what we are used to, and we associate with nationals who can speak our language and are gracious to us as foreigners. We spend the days exploring new sights and sounds and retreat at night to places insulated in part from the strange culture outside. We may be taken to see the local attractions and to meet important people who welcome us. And we will respond with words of goodwill and appreciation for the local culture.

This honeymoon stage may last from a few weeks to several months, depending on the circumstances. Ordinary tourists leave before this phase comes to an end and return home to tell stories about the strange ways of the people. But as missionaries, we have come to stay, which means we must begin the difficult journey of becoming members of a new culture. Paul Hiebert, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries

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