By Jack Sperco, HOI Intern
Traveling can be one of the most rewarding experiences of our lives. No matter if you are traveling on a three-hour car ride or a 15-hour plane ride, wherever you go, not only will the scenery change, but so will the people and culture. Getting to know other cultures helps broaden and shape your worldview. There is no better way to experience a culture than to immerse yourself within its people and customs. One way for people to immerse themselves in other cultures and serve at the same time is through a short-term mission trip. A short-term mission trip usually consists of a group of people that travel to a place in need and plunge into the community, helping anyway that they can. As with any new adventure there are always risks involved. A very significant but often overlooked risk when entering a new city or country is culture shock.
Culture shock is the overwhelming and lost feeling when entering an unfamiliar location. Culture shock can happen to anyone, even very experienced travelers. The shock is different for everyone; some get it right away, some get it well into the trip, and a few may not experience it within the context of a short-term trip. Culture shock generally consists of three different phases.
The first phase can be fun and exciting. During this time the new people, food, culture, scenery and location provide fun adventures and experiences that are very enjoyable and exciting. However those feelings, for some, do not always stay the same.
This leads to the frustration phase. At this point, you may begin to become angry and irritated by cultural differences. Many times the language barrier and lack of common food contribute heavily to the frustration. Confusion and fear can set in, and you may be telling yourself, “I just wish I was home.”
At this point you will come to the final phase: the decision phase. You will be faced with two options. The first option will be to focus on criticizing local customs and isolating yourself from the host culture. The other option is to observe, ask questions, and make an effort to truly understand your surroundings.
During a short-term mission trip, you will need to act quickly if you sense culture shock setting in with you or those around you. You will only have a limited number of days on your trip, and you want to be sure you make the most of them. Remember that your primary goal for the trip is to serve and learn from those you are visiting.
Here are some tips on avoiding and dealing with culture shock:
- Research before you travel: If you become familiar with a location, culture and the people within it before you travel, you will be less likely to be confused and frustrated about how they act and the local customs.
- Be open minded: Going into a culture narrowly minded about what it should be like and how the people should act will only leave you disappointed. If you go in with an open mind, it will be easier to get used to and enjoy other customs.
- Sleep well and stay active: Good sleep has been proven to make people happier, which will help keep an open mind. Staying active in your new city/community will let you see new and exciting things, and the more you know about a place, the more comfortable you will feel.
- Bring something small from home: Having pictures of family and/or small mementos from home can make you feel better if you become homesick.
- Remember that it will not be easy: If you go into your mission trip expecting to come across cultural challenges, it will be easier to overcome them.
- Be prepared: Get together with you mission trip team and go over a schedule about what will happen each day of the trip. If you are not familiar with the language of your host country, try and learn some of the basic words like “hello” and “thank you.” If you think that you will have problems with the food, make sure to pack extra snacks.
Remember that not everyone will get culture shock when they enter a new place, but it is important to know that it a common occurrence. Left unchecked, it can ruin a trip for you and those around you. Yet if you are prepared and open minded, you will be able to get through tough cultural situations and maximize the effectiveness of your team’s impact on the community!
Jack Sperco is a marketing and communications intern at HOI. He is a student at Texas Christian University and is studying communication. You can find him on Google+.