“It must feel so exciting to be here.”
I heard that phrase so many times when my family moved to Scotland, and I often felt angry at the people who said it. Could they imagine the pain that comes from tearing yourself away from your homeland?
Combine misunderstandings with cultural differences and loneliness, and my heart soon became bitter towards my new country.
While I have not truly overcome this challenge, here are three things that have helped me to deal with interacting with other people in my new country.
1. Understand that there will be differences and this is not necessarily bad.
We all see things through a cultural lens. I grew up on Vancouver Island in Canada, which tends to be very communal (different churches would gather together to worship a few times a year), outdoorsy (sometimes to the point of intense environmentalism), and emphasised creative expression.
When I moved to Scotland, it seemed like all of the churches were painfully traditional. The people seemed more reserved. The accent was so thick, and the slang so different, that I often wondered if we were even speaking the same language.
It is easy to think what is normal for you is what is best.
And there is a glimmer of truth in that – when you come from one culture, it is easier to see the blind spots in another culture – just as someone who came to visit your own culture would find the flaws more easily than you.
But to live out of a place of pride will not help your heart or those around you. It won’t help you to try to change the things that truly should be changed, or to try new things that you hadn’t thought of before.
When dealing with cultural differences, we can refer to Romans 14:1–15, specifically verses 4 and 13–14.
“Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.” Romans 14:4 NIV
“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.” Romans 14:13–14 NIV
If what a person is doing is not disobeying the Word of God or causing others to stumble, who are we to judge them? We are all accountable to God for our own actions. And that includes how we treat people with cultural differences from us.
2. Listen and take opportunities.
My family has moved five times in as many years. Knowing that we would be moving again has often made me hesitate to form connections with people.
“Why bother if I’ll leave soon?”
I regret that.
It is painful to pour yourself into people, then go through the process of leaving again. I won’t deny it. But in putting up walls around myself, I miss opportunities to love people and to be loved by them. I let fear get the upper hand.
Choose to seek the adventure. Call that person you had a friendly chat with after church. Volunteer to help someone. Intentionally listen to other people’s stories, and maybe, just maybe, choose to share your own.
Yes, it probably will be painful. But it will also be glorious.
3. Take time with God to recharge.
Jesus sets an example of work and reset, often praying through the night (Matt. 14:22–24; Luke 5:16). Although He is God incarnate, it was still vital for Him to pray, seek His Father’s will, and recharge.
While experiencing a new culture, remember to take time to be with God, recharge yourself in His presence, worship, and bring your worries to Him.
For me, this process often means taking a long walk and talking aloud or playing worship music. For you, it could mean painting, studying the Bible, fasting, praying through the night … the options are many. Ask God how He wants to connect with you. Ask Him to give you grace for those around you. And ask Him to help you become more like Him.