What is culture shock and will you experience it on a short-term mission trip?
In order to understand culture shock, you must first understand culture. Culture includes the rules and customs of our surroundings. We learn our culture early as we are growing up. It is constantly being reinforced throughout our lives. Culture shapes and influences our behaviors, perceptions and decisions. It’s the reason you know how to communicate with those around you. It’s basically what makes you, YOU!
So, if we all have culture and it’s just living where we live and doing what we do, then what is culture shock? Culture shock is when you travel to another part of the world and you no longer fit in. It’s when the rules and behaviors and social customs from home don’t make sense. It’s all part of the experience of traveling. However if you don’t prepare ahead, it can lead to mild confusion or fear and anxiety. I find as I grow older, I need to be better prepared and learn about the cultural differences before the trip. I want to fully enjoy the experience of serving in a different place.
Here are 5 tips to help you avoid or lessen culture shock on your trip.
1. Read about and learn as much as possible about your destination. Your mission trip leader will give you some of this information, but it’s always good to do your own homework. Read up to date travel guides or do internet searches on your host country.
- Here are a few suggestions for your research:
- Food – Find out what they eat and how to order it from a restaurant.
- Simple social rules for that country.
- Try to learn some basic sentences in their language such as hello, please and thank you.
- How to use public restrooms. You’d be surprised at the differences.
- How to dress as to not offend anyone.
2. Check their calendar to see what holidays, festivals or other national events may be happening. You and your group may want to join them and learn about their culture. Sometimes you may need to know if anything will interfere with your trip and you need alternate plans. This again is something your mission leader will help you with.
3. Get to know the locals. When you go on a mission trip, there will be many locals available to help you and your group. You’ll either have a pastor and the people at the church or you’ll have people from a Christian ministry. Let them help you make sense of the new culture. Ask questions and take time to observe those around you. While observing, pay attention to how local people interact in groups. Watch to see how they greet each other, how they sit, who speaks first and where do they look when talking to one another. These are all good things to notice and practice while there. Remember, what’s normal for you may be offensive to them.
4. Be patient with yourself and fellow team members.We all experience things differently. As a mission team member, try to be encouraging to the others. Many will be tired and stressed just from the long trip. Share with others your needs and remember to pray for each other. Make sure you have your quiet devotional time also.
5. Keep up your healthy eating, exercising and sleeping routines. This may the hardest of all to do on a mission trip. Do your best to not overeat or eat too much junk food. You will probably be busy from morning to night but try to get a walk in the morning or evening. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water so you don’t get dehydrated.
Going on a mission trip is a great experience.
I know when I travel to a different country, I love to experience their culture. I do take time to prepare by reading as much as I can before the trip. Usually our host loves to learn about us too. I’ve learned that Christians everywhere are extremely warm and welcoming. Most of them are impacted by poverty but that doesn’t stop them from desiring to see others know Christ as Savior. We all come from different places and different cultures but we are united in Christ. So, go and enjoy the experience as you share the love of Christ with others around the world.
For more information about going on mission trips, please buy or download my book from Amazon. I give away the e-book once a month. Please visit my blog for the next date. Here’s the link for my book from Amazon. From the Couch to the Mission Field.