Sunday, January 27, 2013

Beyond Culture Shock: Culture Pain & Culture Stripping

We often get asked the question, "What is it like to live overseas?"  We then struggle to answer that question because of the deep complexities that it faces.  Below is a blog post from A Life Overseas that helps explain our answer in a much better way than we have ever articulated. So my hope is that this helps answer that question for anyone who has asked us about living in Cambodia.

"Expatriates are told to prepare for Culture Shock and expect to experience it within their first year.

But what about after that year? What about after seven years? Nine? Fifteen? What about the frustrations and tears, hurt and stress, internal (or external) cries for ‘home’? What about those days when you will do anything to

After the first year, I thought I was free from culture shock. Now I would delve deep, adapt, feel more local than foreign. So when I continued to struggle with cultural issues and when that struggle increased and peaked around year seven, I thought I was crazy. Failing. The Only One.

This wasn’t culture shock, I had moved well beyond shock. So what was it? I discovered that two things happen, after culture shock, as we root in a land not our own, as we love hard and get involved and take risks.

  • Culture Pain
Culture pain comes when the difficult, or different, or confusing aspects of a new culture begin to affect you at a deep, personal level. Living overseas is really your life now. This is your past, your present, your future. This is where your children learned to walk and ride bikes, where you laugh and grieve and build a tapestry of memories.

Things like corruption and poor health care, attitudes toward HIV, education of girls, adoption, or poverty, religious rituals, children’s rites of passage, are not theoretical anymore. This is now you giving birth, your daughter in the classroom, your adoption papers misplaced, your coworker recently diagnosed. These issues are now yours to navigate. And sometimes, that hurts.
  • Culture Stripping
Culture stripping begins the moment you touch the earth in this new place. It doesn’t stop. Ever. Not even when you return to your passport country. Culture stripping forever changes who you are.

Culture stripping is the slow peeling back of layers and layers of self. You give up pork. You give up wearing blue jeans. You give up holidays with relatives. And those are the easy things. Your ideas about politics and faith and family, your sense of humor and taste in clothes, the books you read, evolve and change. Even, potentially, your outlook on spirituality.

You have little instinctive protective layers between you and the world. Buffers like fluency, shared history, family, no longer buoy you. You are learning, but you will never be local. And so you also are stripped of the idealized image of yourself as a local.

This also hurts, but it is a good, purposeful pain.

Kind of like Eustace in C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. He was turned into a dragon and failed to get rid of the scales on his own but Aslan comes.
“That very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when we began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’d ever felt…he peeled the beastly stuff right off…and there it was lying on the grass…and there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been…I’d been turned into a boy again. You’d think me simply phony if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they’re no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian’s, but I was so glad to see them.”
  • Glad for it
The arms, the new self, this new way of living and seeing the world look different than before you moved overseas. Not perfect, not like anyone else’s, and still sensitive. But different because the shock, the pain, the stripping, have changed you.

And you are glad to see it."

Friday, January 25, 2013

Cristiano Ronaldo or Gangnam Style?

This past Tuesday we had three volunteers come out to give haircuts to all the students at our Prek Pneu site.  One woman is a hairdresser from Canada, and gave a haircut to any student who wanted one, which was about 50-60 students (all in one day!).  The other two volunteers, myself, and our Project Coordinator gave lice killing shampoo treatments to each student.  At the school here, 90% of children have lice (and a good amount of it) so we gave them one of their series of treatments and taught lessons on how to not transfer it and protect yourself from getting it again.

Though lice is not the biggest issue here, we are happy to help give some comfort relief to our students and continue to teach them better hygiene practices.  

After everyone was shampooed and brushed they got a quick haircut.  The boys all either wanted to look like soccer super star, Cristiano Ronaldo, or have Gangnam style.  So in doing translation we just came to the point of asking the boys "do you want Ronaldo or Gangnam?"

Oh the things you learn to say in Khmer...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Game On

"Gaaaaaame Onnnnnnn" the unmistakable phrase used by neighborhood kids when a car comes down the street and briefly stops the game.  Once the car is passed and everything is back to normal again, everyone yells, "game on."

"Game on" is what we are saying now that we are back in Cambodia from our whirlwind Wedding trip/Christmas in America.  Chris arrived in Cambodia two Sunday mornings ago and within 3 hours of his 35 hour flight had a meeting for the upcoming teacher training that he was in charge of hosting.  After he put in a half days work getting last minute things finished and meeting the visiting professors from BIOLA University he headed to the airport to pick me up at 11:00pm. 

We both drove home in a fog thinking about the world we have transplanted out of, into, out of, and back into in just days time.  After dropping my bags in the living room we crashed in bed and 6 hours later we found ourselves getting ready for Monday morning.

On Monday and Tuesday Asian Hope hosted a professional development teacher training for every teacher at all of Asian Hope's ministries, about 125 staff in all.  The ex-pat teachers were able to get re-certification credit and the Khmer staff were given trainings they had never heard before.  Chris spent the last 6 months working with these professors on the needs of our expat and Khmer staff at four different schools/locations.  He worked on the content, the schedule, the needs, and the translation of literally hundreds upon hundreds of pages of teacher development.  But at the end of two days the training was excellent and all of our staff left in great appreciation.

On Tuesday, 2Five2 hosted another one of its Adult Community Workshops in Prek Pneu.  This workshop was on the prevention of Human Trafficking in their community.  We were thrilled to have over 65 attendees, and included in that was the village leaders and authorities and as well as the village security team.  This was a huge landmark for us to reach and the celebration was indeed done afterwards.

Our first two days back were packed, so afterwards we had a chance to do some laundry, unpack, and clean up just in time to host the professors at our house for dinner (great motivation to get those chores done) and get ready to spend the next few days with the Ketchum girls.

By the end of the week, we once again had the blessing to stay with and watch over the four Ketchum girls who hold a dear place in our hearts.  Our friends were in Bangkok for three short days and while they were gone we taught the girls how to country line dance, somehow got them to help us wash our car for the first time EVER (oh the dirt and dust), and finally watch Ice Age 4. 

Sunday we went home and got over the remnants of our colds and got ready for another week.  This week we have enjoyed getting back into our routines of church, Monday men's basketball, swimming laps, Wednesday runs, and our bible studies.  So we are back and the "game is back on."

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A December to Remember

Off to church on Christmas Eve. Manbeard! 
Leanne and I returned this week from a wonderful trip to America for the holidays. The main event of our two weeks in the U.S. was undeniably my brother's wedding in Philadelphia but we were blessed to spend Christmas with family and a very enjoyable week in Washington D.C. with some very dear friends. Here are the abbreviated notes:

Albuquerque: Christmas with Leanne's family was remarkable and often felt like a Norman Rockwell painting. A fireplace, stockings, a beautiful tree, family and endless amounts of food made the whole week wonderful. We celebrated Christmas with Leanne's mother and brother as well as our niece Charlie and absolutely enjoyed every minute of festivities; especially the cold. After some airport follies which resulted in a super-classy 45 minute first-class flight from Albuquerque to Phoenix, we arrived in Philadelphia to be with my big brother and new sister-in-law.

Philly: We were so cliche in Philly. Seeing the Liberty Bell and Constitution Hall, running the Rocky stairs and devouring some Cheesesteaks were all marked as personal accomplishments. The wedding itself was absolutely wonderful and idyllic. The Philadelphia Horticultural Center was the perfect backdrop to an already beautiful marriage and Leanne I were able to spend time with a lot of my family who we have not seen much or at all in the last three years. Needless to say, seeing my brother get married to a woman who we absolutely adore and respect was an honor and being able to participate and be present was a fantastic gift. Having seen so much family in our first 10-days in America, we were very excited to get to D.C. to see some friends from are recent and not-so-recent past.

Washington D.C.: I like to call D.C. "the District" because that is what my friends call it and it makes me feel like I am part of a police show. The District almost instantly became one of our favorite cities that we have ever visited. It is unique, full of great sites, diverse and simple. Perfect. We stayed with two extremely close friends and were able to see two other college friends who mean a lot to us. It was a very special time with them, eating Chipotle after an hour wait in line and seeing some of the finest museums in the world. Despite having to fend off the coldest temperatures in the last year, we loved our time and had a hard time saying goodbye to our friends and to the city.

Our two weeks were an absolute gift in many ways. Time with family and new family, seeing two of America's most historic cities, spending Christmas in cold temps and of course, eating great food all made for a wonderful time.

We have hit the ground running here in Cambodia with big projects, large responsibilities and a little babysitting mixed in but we are being sustained and we feel blessed to be back home and back at work. All I want now is a little sleep and a Broncos' playoff victory. Amen.
At Ben's Chili Bowl with the founder's wife in D.C.  
With the bride and groom. Good job bro! 
Celebrating America! 
Just a couple of classy people celebrating Christmas. Leanne's outfit is a long and hilarious story!