Crossing Cultures: Acclimation

Living in a foreign culture for years is an odd thing. At first, everything was either extremely interesting or extremely annoying, because we were evaluating all experiences against our own and determining whether new things should be accepted or merely endured. I’ve been writing this column for two years, which means I’ve spent lots of time paying attention to the things I experience, trying to put my finger on their value to a Peruvian’s life and extrapolate the value I should integrate into my own. 

Honestly, it has gotten hard. Yes, there are still blatantly obvious things that drive me absolutely bonkers, because my subconscious will not assimilate them into my own existence. For example, I refuse to honk when the entire line of cars is sitting at a red light. Where are we supposed to encourage each other to go in this situation? No clue. So I don’t honk. And the petulant voice that adults use when they are making a plea is worse than fingernails on a chalkboard to me and there is no way I will adopt that habit. 

However, the difficulty hasn’t come because I end up only focusing on things that irritate or frustrate me. Rather, it has come with my adjustment to the culture and comfort level moving around within it. Simply put, I don’t notice the differences as much because I’m used to them. It was easy to observe things that struck me as unusual when they actually were unusual, but the number of those things that jump out at me has shrunk to very little. 

As long as we live here, this is a very good thing. God is stretching us in new ways that aren’t culturally-driven, but deal with situational decisions, personality differences, or simply being pulled to doing new things that require big steps of faith. It’s not that the culture is no longer a factor, but it is becoming a background question rather than a focus as our work grows. 

The biggest blessing of this new phase is the shift from a view of us (missionaries) as separate from them (Peruvians) as we move into a collaborative effort. Peruvians are taking part in developmental work, evangelism, leading discussions at church, ministering at our new coffee shop (projected launch of February), and filling the places in our hearts that can only be held by close friends. Parent- ing, faith, marriage, work, and life in general provide our common ground, and we are stronger for the different backgrounds we bring to share with each other. We struggle together, work together, praise together and laugh together. 

Do I consider myself fully Peruvian? No. But my life experience has been pulled enough in this new direction that I am no longer fully American, either. We have a foot in two different worlds, both of which are home and neither of which are complete in our lives without the other. So for me, crossing cultures hasn’t meant changing from one to another, but splitting the difference and be- ing willing to redefine myself by new standards if necessary.