Fitting In and Standing Out In a New Culture

How often have you heard the words “cultural differences” or “culture shock” since you moved? I bet it’s a lot, because – and I try to say this without any tone of negativity or frustration – I’ve pretty much lost count. People back home and new people you meet all want to know how it’s different, adjustments you’ve had to make, what you like and what you don’t like. Sometimes the questions seem unending.

And the funny thing is, there seems to be an expectation that culture shock will be much, much less if you move to a place that shares your language. I’ll put my hands up and say that I really don’t think it matters. I’ve lived in places where I had limited knowledge of the spoken language and had to feel my way forward. I’ve moved from the south to the north of my birth country and lived in places where my accent gave me away faster than Nicholas Higgins could tell Margaret Hale in North and South, “You’re just a foreigner and nothing more.”

I’ve now been settled in my “new old place” for 7 months, and I still feel like I have some enculturating to do. I open my mouth and my voice gives me away as different, not from around here, and I recognize that is probably always something that will happen. I’ve jumped through the hoops so that I can drive, buy groceries, use my phone, and see a doctor in my new town – you know, all the routine things we take for granted. I’ve also found that there is a slowly widening group of people who have adjusted to who I am, how I ended up here, and how I sound, which inevitably leads to fewer questions and more normal conversations on the daily.

For me, 7 months seems to have taken a really long time to pass. But to the new people I meet, 7 months is nothing. Our sense of time and place is different, and none of us quite know how long it’s going to take for me to feel really “at home.” And so, finding this community was a God-given gift, because it made me realize that there are other women out there who are facing the same challenges as me. And there are women out there who haven’t yet made the move, but would benefit from the few pearls of wisdom that I’ve found along the way.

  1. Don’t run before you can walk – or, don’t drive before you can walk. When I moved I had to re-take my driving test in all of its forms, but before that my husband took me out in my new car. Everything was different and I kept getting upset and frustrated with myself, with him, and with everything else. Then he told me that I needed to forget that I had ever driven before (for ten years!) and just start at the beginning.  I realized that when I put my pride to one side, I allowed my instincts to come back and I could move forward.
  2. Show hospitality to others, even if you feel you’re getting hostility in return. This isn’t always easy because as humans we are hardwired to close off and protect ourselves when we feel threatened. Yet, the Bible is full of invitations from God to mankind, stranger to stranger. Hebrews 13:2 tells us, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” It’s easy to feel that we are part of a foreign community destined not to fit in to the place we have found ourselves. But we must also remember that we represent ourselves and that we’d never regret extending the hand of friendship, assistance, or understanding to another person.
  3. Dare to be different. Those first months and weeks in a new place are really difficult: we miss our families, we get easily frustrated, it takes time to settle into a new routine. We try to fit in, but we just don’t because something marks us as different. God’s love for us isn’t contingent on whether we can blend in with everyone else. He has granted gifts and callings to each of us. He has marked us out as special. Let us follow His plans for us and accept when and if it is our destiny to stand out from the crowd.
  4. God’s love is a universal language. I want to come back to the idea of language on this one, because whether you are challenged by a new or different language, or you’re struggling because your accent or dialect is different, it doesn’t matter. You can still be heard. On the day of Pentecost, the apostles spoke the Gospel to the crowds in Jerusalem, and what they said could be understood by people who spoke many different languages (see Acts 2:1-12).  This is the first instance of “speaking in tongues,” but Paul goes onto describe this spiritual gift in detail. To the Corinthians, he wrote:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
1 Corinthians 12:4-10

The Word tells us of the history of God’s people who, just like us, adapted to new cultures, new people, and new challenges. Our gifts may be varied, we may live in different places, the struggles we encounter may be the same, or entirely unique but the strength of our Spirit is the same.

What pearls of wisdom on enculturating do you share with us as a community?

Photo by Sabri Tuzcu on Unsplash

2 Comments

  1. Kara August 19, 2018

    Thanks Natalie! We are in transition back to where we’ve lived for 8 years, after a year away. Your words are timely as every member of our family rides their own emotional roller coaster through this transition!

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