5 barriers to overcome when visiting a new country
When you visit a new country, it's helpful to anticipate what it's going to be like. Otherwise, you may end up with a case of culture shock that'll paralyze you mentally (and emotionally) until you're on the plane ride home.
Why you should overcome barriers
A large part of an effective mission trip is embracing the community and culture as they are. If you're taken back and completely "shocked" by the smells, customs, and food, you'll be less likely to embrace the people and their community.
5 common barriers to overcome when visiting a new country are...
1) The smell
The first thing you usually notice when you step off of a plane in a new country is the smell. Have you ever visited a friend's house and realized that their home has a distinct smell? Well, countries do too. This is especially true if you're visiting a developing nation. Smells are usually a combination of body odor (many cultures do not use deodorant), smog, and vehicle exhaust.
If you prepare yourself for the smell, you'll avoid walking around with a "stink face" the whole time you're abroad.
2) The sights
You will no doubt see some things on your mission trip that you've never seen before. Breathtaking scenery, driving on the left-hand side of the road, and poverty are usually what people remember the most.
If you're visiting a poverty-stricken area, you may see some things that you weren't expecting.
When we see poverty, we're tempted to look at it like it's a movie and we're just passers-by. We're tempted to simply snap a few pictures and keep on walking. That's the paralyzing part of culture shock that you want to avoid.
If you anticipate the poverty, then it won't blindside you. That way you won't freeze up and you'll be more likely to respond by loving and embracing the community.
The whole world doesn't speak English. We know this, but we seldom anticipate how difficult it will be to connect and relate with a person that we cannot verbally communicate with.
Talking and chatting is easy for us, because we already do it all day long. If the other person doesn't speak English, however, we hit a barrier. Overcoming this barrier means moving outside of our comfort zone. It means that we have to maximize other communication methods, like facial expressions and physical interaction.
This will be harder for some than others (I'm an introvert, so this was really difficult for me), but it means hugging on kids and holding their hands to show them that you care. It means lending a hand to someone tilling a field, and doing it with a huge smile on your face.
When it comes to helping hands and hugs, there is no language barrier. It all means the same thing: you care about them.
How does the community dress? What are church services like? Why is everyone greeting each other with a kiss on the cheek? Chances are, the community you're visiting does life very differently from you. These customs are what make a community truly unique.
There is often a tension (a barrier) between simply observing the community's customs and participating in the community's customs.
One of the places I've felt this tension is during African church services. Services usually involve a lot of dancing and jumping around, and as a pasty white guy, I've felt out of place on many occasions. Even when I've been encouraged by the locals to participate, my tendency was to stand in the back and simply observe their dancing and jumping. Was I connecting with and embracing the community? Not at all. There is a huge difference between being present and being a participant.
Connecting with the community happens when you're a participant, not an observer. If you anticipate and prepare for some of the customs, you'll be more likely to engage and be a participant.
If you visit a friends home for dinner, you would never make fun of the food or refuse to eat simply because the food didn't meet your standards. Why? Because your friend put time, money, and energy into preparing that meal for you.
It shouldn't be any different when we're abroad.
The meals you eat abroad are going to be very different from the food you're used to at home. If you choose to make fun of it or even refuse to eat it, you might not only offend the person that prepared it, but also any locals that are around during your mealtime. Making fun of the food creates a barrier between you and the locals, just like it would if you made fun of a meal that a friend prepared for you.
If you anticipate the food and some of the meals ahead of time, you'll be more likely to react to the food with a good attitude.
Putting it all together
Even if you anticipate what it's going to be like, chances are you'll still experience some culture shock; this is normal (and probably even healthy). The goal is to avoid paralyzing culture shock that prevents you from loving and embracing the kids, people, and community as they are.
Written by CJ