For me, the hardest thing about going on a short-term mission hasn’t been the culture shock, the language barrier, or the distance from home.
Instead, the hardest thing was experiencing ‘reverse culture shock’ upon arriving back in Sydney.
Experiencing ‘culture shock’ while away
Growing up in Sydney, I was accustomed to a certain lifestyle. Accordingly, I knew that visiting a developing country would be a challenging experience.
Therefore, I prepared myself!
I typed the province and city that I was visiting into ‘Google’, which provided approximately 793,000 results. I thoroughly read a hundred sources (up to, and including, the tenth search page) and prayed everyday, asking God to help me adapt to change.
When I arrived at my destination, I realised that everything Google taught me was pointless.
Google told me the hip, cool, and historical facts about the location. However, it didn’t let me know:
- That people disposed of their rubbish by lighting fires on the road;
- That the local mosques were going to wake me up at 5AM daily; and
- That the blood of foreigners was seemingly a favourite for local mosquitoes.
Eventually, I became accustomed to the local culture and fell in love with it.
However, nothing really prepares you for that initial ‘culture shock’.
Excited to come back home
At one point on the flight back to Sydney, I got really excited about having a warm shower, which I had not experienced for five weeks. Further, the thought of a piccolo latte, or a flat white, put a giant smile on my face.
All in all, I was quite excited to return home – to the culture I was accustomed to.
However, once I landed, I began feeling the effects of ‘reverse culture shock’.
My experience of ‘reverse culture shock’
After coming back from short term mission, I am now conscious of three aspects of Sydney life – three aspects of my life – which I previously didn’t give much thought to.
First, I am now conscious of Sydney’s ‘over-commercialisation’.
For the past week, newspaper headlines have been talking about debts, interests, bank fees, loans, mortgages, wages etc. It seems that money drives our interests. Further, I’ve come to appreciate that the cost of buying lunch in the Sydney CBD equates to half the weekly salary of a family in a developing country.
For the first few days, this over-commercialisation caused me to experience frustration, and at times, even disappointment.
Second, I now realise that my life in Sydney is surrounded by ‘busyness’.
During my mission trip, my focus was on serving the local missionaries, serving the local people, and loving God. However, in Sydney, I have to worry about obligations, fees to pay, and deadlines. Additionally, for the first few days, I was very conscious of all the noise surrounding me – the noise of traffic, the noise of technology, and the noise of people.
It took a few days of prayer to get over the agitation I was experiencing.
Yet, despite the aforementioned negative emotions, God filled me with overwhelming joy when I went back to church.
I was standing at the back of my church’s hall during our high school fellowship and felt an overwhelming sense of joy at seeing approximately 40 teenagers meeting together to study God’s word.
In the location that I returned from, there were less than 30 known Christians among a population of millions.
To be honest, without going on short term mission, I would not appreciate my church, and the greater church of Sydney, as much as I do now.
What I have learnt from experiencing ‘reverse culture shock’
After two weeks in Sydney, I have come to accept the realities of home. No longer do I feel disappointed, frustrated, or agitated. In fact, I’m appreciative of the lessons that God has taught me through this experience of ‘reverse culture shock’.
For example, I am now conscious of how commercialisation affects the way I live. Further, I am reminded that in the ‘busyness’ of life, I must find time to rest in God.
Finally, I have a newfound appreciation, and love, for my church, its teaching, and its people – all of which support me in my walk with Jesus, and encourage me to love Him more.
Jia Pan Xiao has recently complete a Juris Doctor at the University of New South Wales. In his spare time, he watches American sports, drinks coffee and devours chocolate mud-cake. He attends GracePoint Chinese Presbyterian Church and will commence working as a lawyer in early 2017.
Jia Pan Xiao’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/jia-pan-xiao.html