Living in a Foreign Culture

It is difficult to truly understand and describe living in a foreign culture until you have done it. Traveling in another culture may provide a taste of what that culture is like, but until you have lived there, managing life for yourself, it will be difficult to truly appreciate the ups and downs, the highs and lows, of living in this new location.

There are many opportunities for growth and maturity by living in another culture. If we are open to learn from our host culture, we will discover that there are different answers to life’s fundamental questions: where did I come from, what is the meaning of life, who am I. 

We develop our understanding of what we know to be true in three ways:

  • Intellectually – through our reason or orthodoxy
  • Experientially – through our practice or orthopraxy
  • Socially – through relationship or orthopathy

When moving into another culture we must learn understand the basic questions of life questions on these three levels: intellectual, experiential, and social. We often hear the phrase, “I know, but now I really ‘know’” to describe this process.

For example, most missionaries know that learning another language will be difficult, but they don’t really know how difficult it will be. How could they? They haven’t experienced learning another language. They haven’t dealt with the real-life consequences of not knowing the language commonly spoken where they are living. They haven’t felt the loss of relationship from not being able to communicate with anyone about the deeper issues of life. After 6 months, a year, 2 years, etc., a missionary truly knows the difficulty in learning another language at a different level.

When moving into a foreign culture you must once again answer life’s basic questions and you must do so using all three ways people know what they know.

Here are some questions to help you begin to understand your new context:

  • What do people celebrate in your host culture? How do they celebrate?
  • What do people say are the culture’s liabilities?
  • What do people say are the culture’s assets?
  • What is the history of the place that you are living?
  • What does a good parent look like there?
  • What character qualities are most valued?
  • What character qualities are not valued?
  • How are good and bad defined?
  • What is the definition of a friend?
  • In what categories does the culture consistently avoid reason? Why?
  • As a culture, what is the highest value? Reason, Practice or Relationship?