12 Issues You Need to Understand to Live Cross-Culturally
In today’s article, I want to present some very specific categories, issues, that I have found either puzzle, worry or flat out scare some people. I do not want to promote fear mongering, but help people learn how to sail around what seem to be the dangers. I want this to be a guide for people who desire to learn to live in another culture. The twelve categories aren’t magic, nor are they all negative categories. They aren’t designed to be a psychological study of you as an individual, but better, some practical ideas about that category and how it affects people who choose to live in another culture. These are twelve issues you need to learn about to live cross-culturally.
Worldview is how we see the world. It is how we make sense of the world around us. Frankly, many of the problems people face living cross-culturally stem from a misunderstanding of worldview issues. How is the world put together really?
One major concern about living in another culture is the problem of culture shock. One of the things I have seen however is that while culture shock happens, the attitude of the person before and after is often the real measure of dealing with that shock. There are in point of fact, three gringos I have met. How do you react and what do you do with culture shock?
Time, Place, Space
We all live in and with different concepts of time, place and space. Learning how other people conceive of these issues is crucial. It isn’t just: “Why can’t anything start on time here?” It has to do with how we configure these three elements in our lives. How do others describe the time and place they inhabit?
We all construct mental shortcuts that we use to describe our world. At one extreme are true prejudices often times produced by believing that one’s culture is, after all, the best. Learning to adopt, adapt or reject host culture models of how the world works is very crucial. Sometimes we believe that our values and ways of seeing things are somehow universal. How do you learn the give and take of living in a place with people who hold different values?
Forget the idea that “well I will just get by with my English.” If you want to only live in an expatriate culture that is fine. Learning the language of the culture is extremely important. It helps you not only to understand people, but really understand the culture. This is a category that scares most mature adults. I believe it is possible to learn a language and learn to function well at any age. How do you learn to communicate in meaningful, practical ways?
You need to learn there are dragons out there, but maybe not as many as you think. Learning to take basic precautions, learning how to not expose yourself to dangerous situations and learning what to do if it does happen are all important. Besides, how safe are you right now in the city you live in?
I love it here/hate it here/love it here. That basically describes the life cycle of culture shock. Make no mistake, living somewhere is different from vacationing in a place. You will experience both incredible love and “fear and loathing,” sometimes in the same day. On the other side you can also learn how to be the Third Gringo. How do you go about learning to love or at least living with the things that most irritate you?
Religious and Spiritual Notions
People live multi-dimensional lives. While we may have relegated religious and spiritual experiences to a corner in the West, everywhere else in the world it makes up the warp and woof of daily life. “Quaint customs” or what some call superstitions, become all too real when it affects how you deal with real people. How do other belief systems affect your life?
Dealing With the Government
There is nothing like getting a suit and tie on and going down to a government office and….well that is the problem isn’t it? Everyone has heard horrible tales of bribes, inefficiency, bureaucracy and frank ineptitude in some other countries’ governments. There are also very kind people who understand your situation and want to help. This is a huge category! How do you deal with government offices and bureaucracy?
Building relationships with people is very important. How do you do that though? How can you get to know people who are not as anxious to be known? You are a stranger. How do you do it in culturally appropriate ways? We all want to be liked and make friends. How do you build relationships that are meaningful?
What if I get sick? Well, you will get sick. You need to learn that good doctors don’t have to study in the United States and that health care systems, while apparently primitive, may be able to help you more than you think. Health is a pressing issue. How do you handle your own body and keep yourself well?
Learning how to get around, go to the market, ask the maid to change the sheets and tell the carpenter to build the cabinets can fill up your day. What is important to remember is that most people are just like you: normal. They are living and loving and taking care of family just like you are. Daily living tasks, rather than a burden can become part of the adventure. How do you make the daily routines of life part of your adventure and not another chore?
It is an adventure after all. I don’t mean extreme risk, I mean adventure. You can bungee jump if you want. I prefer not. But living in another culture, learning, loving, contributing to that culture, now that is adventure. There are new things to see and do. There are new people to meet and new vistas that frankly you have not seen yet. Out on the edge of the map, that other place, where the dragons live, is full of adventure. Are there critical issues you need to face? Of course there are. Are there things you don’t know yet? Ah yes, there are. There are plenty I don’t yet. Out there on the edge of the map, where the dragons live, there is also life.
Dr. Michael McAleer
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Please feel free to write and comment, ask questions, or learn how I can help you on your cross-cultural journey to the Edge of the Map.
© 2012 Michael McAleer Third Gringo Productions