Typically, when people come from a different culture, they experience culture shock when re-entering the States. And most often, especially among Christians, humanitarians, etc. who visit third-world countries, the term “culture shock” is reduced to nothing more than being “shocked” that we have so many things in our country and people in third-world countries have next to nothing, yet often have so much more joy than we do. While this is true and can be somewhat a revelation for some, I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily shocked by this. Not anymore, at least. I mean, aside from my first two years, I’ve lived in the States my whole life, so I know how many things we have and I know how unfulfilled many Americans still remain. I’m used to it. Upon re-entering the country, this is just an unfortunate reality that I’ve just come to expect. Maybe this is because I’m hyper-observant and have come to the aforementioned conclusion years ago. Maybe it’s because I’ve been in and out of our culture several times and have simply grown calloused to this idea. Or maybe it’s because the reality of it all is too much to take it, so I just block it out and don’t think about it. Heck, I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t experience culture shock in this way.
I do, however, still experience culture shock. But it has more to do with the culture—the way of life, the way of being, the values and underlying beliefs that our way of doing things reveals—than anything else. Although I’ve been back in the country from Uganda for over two weeks, I had one of my first experiences with culture shock today (aside from being bombarded by loud, obnoxious, rushed, slightly rude Americans at the Boston airport). Today was my first day experiencing anything work related since school let out at the beginning of June. I had to travel with other Special Ed teachers, visiting different facilities that our students would be attending post-high school, and I was quickly reminded—maybe even shocked—how time-oriented we are as a society. We had a schedule of where we would be and at what time we would be there, and boy, they made sure we were on time to everything. It didn’t matter what we were doing, who we were talking to, nothing; we had to get back on the bus when it was time to leave because we had to be on time to the next place. And I get it; we’re trying to be courteous to the next person who’s expecting us at a certain time, but that’s just it. That’s the way our culture and our society runs. It’s essentially controlled by time. We have to be on time to this, we have to be on time to that, we have to know what time it is, we only have so much time to do this, that, or the other. Just thinking about it stresses me out.
I don’t think I’ll ever change our entire culture’s obsession with time, but I think there are little ways I can keep myself from sharing that obsession. Obviously, I’m still going to be on time to important things, like work, so I don’t lose my job. But more often than not, I don’t need to be in a rush to do anything. I don’t really need to be on time to many things. I can place more emphasis on building relationships than on being somewhere on time or getting things done. I can enjoy life instead of speeding through it.
We spend so much time and energy worrying and stressing about getting places in our lives that we oftentimes fail to simply live our lives. Time makes us too cautious. It creates unnecessary stress. Obsessing about it creates missed opportunities. We miss countless opportunities to be grateful. Countless opportunities to see beauty. Countless opportunities to speak life into a person’s situation. Countless opportunities to think and reflect on the miracle that is life itself. I don’t know about you, but I know for me, in the hustle and bustle that is the American way of life, getting from here to there in the quickest way possible, I’ve missed so much already. I’m ready to experience the in between. I invite anyone reading this to, even in the smallest way possible, slow down and experience the in between with me.
Think. Reflect. Love. Connect. Live.