Plato often advised his students: “Know thyself.” But the phrase probably precedes him by many centuries. By Plato’s time, KNOW THYSELF was already etched in temple walls.
This ancient wisdom takes on contemporary significance when we start jumping on planes and flying across oceans. Landing in a foreign land with a foreign language, foreign culture, and foreign foods can be exceedingly disorienting – even if we don’t always feel the disorientation. Culture shock hits everyone who lives abroad – whether we admit it or not.
Knowing ourselves can both ease the tension and cure some of the pain. We can find a measure of healing freedom through simply being aware of where we are in the normal stages of culture shock. However, knowing ourselves goes much deeper.
As one who has lived abroad for seven years, I can testify that culture shock will reveal our darkest parts. Our old wounds will be reactivated. Our old pains and fears will resurface as new incarnations. At this time, the most tempting option will be to blame all our frustrations and pains on the new culture in which we find ourselves.
This place is so backward.
Why do they do such crazy things?
This stuff is just stupid.
The temptation is always to project our pain outward. It’s their fault. The problem is out there – with these people, this place, this system, this culture. The problem is never in here, with me, my own darkness. It is true that all cultures have weaknesses, and it’s true that some cultures are better at some things than others. However, our greatest frustrations often reveal more about ourselves than about whatever is driving us crazy. So go deep. Ask yourself some probing questions.
What is really going on here?
Why does this frustrate me so much?
What am I really afraid of with this?
How does this connect with my own history?
What does God want to do in me in the midst of this situation?
If you’re like me,you may find that living in another culture teaches you more about yourself than anyone else.
(This blog was originally posted as part of a series on living abroad at: http://michaelrpalmer.wordpress.com/).