I feel so intimidated to write this post. I am absolutely no expert on this topic. But I thought I would give it a shot and see if some of you that read this post can leave us some helpful comments to add to this list.
I’ll fill you in on my minuscule experience overseas so that you will know where I’m coming from when you read my list. I left America when I was 23. I was newly married and had no children. I moved to the United Kingdom with my husband and a bunch of useless stuff. We have been here for over 10 years now.
I’ve always worked among English speakers, so I’ve never learned another language. Because language is so vital to the culture, I’ll leave that part to be written by one of my many friends who work in other countries. Maybe I’ll even talk one of them into writing a “PART 2” for this post.
So here’s how it feels for me to be bi-cultural. I’m….
1. Working to keep the balance between loving both cultures. Sometimes I work so hard to love the new culture that I find myself almost despising my birth culture. This is too drastic. Yes, we must love our new culture, but we should try to do it without totally abandoning our old culture. I was taught to try to refrain from talking about how big and wonderful everything is in America. It was a no-no to say that stuff in America is better. Well, I went to the total opposite extreme and started saying how awful things are in America. I was constantly bringing up America in a bad way. I did this thinking that I was showing people how much I was accepting their culture. But it wasn’t helpful.
2. Feeling like a child while learning a new culture and language. There are so many levels and aspects of culture, many of which are difficult to even pin point. Sometimes the only way of learning is by living there for years and years and constantly experiencing new things. Reading books on culture and talking to people are also fantastic ways of learning. But for some reason, making mistakes has been my preferred method:) haha Like back when I used to wear white tights. In the UK, you just don’t wear white tights. Ever. Especially with a dark skirt. It’s embarrassing to recall how many times I did before a teenage girl finally clued me in. Or the time when I served a Sunday dinner without potatoes. It may not seem serious to you. But where I lived in Northern Ireland, that was a pretty silly thing to do.
3. Coming to the point where you stop missing your birth culture. I can’t tell you the day and time, but somewhere along the way, I’ve stopped missing America. I never thought that could or would happen to me. I’m not super spiritual enough to be so in tune with Jesus that it didn’t hurt when I left and for years after. But God has changed my heart over the years in ways that I didn’t think possible.
4. Acknowledging that there are illogical things in both cultures. At the beginning, we naturally want to think that our birth culture just makes more sense and is always superior. Everything we grew up doing is definitely the best, right. Or so we think. But you may find, in your new culture, that they do things that make even more sense than the way you learned in your birth culture. Be open to learning how your new culture may show superiority in some areas. Like here in the UK, ordering your groceries online from the local supermarket and having them delivered to your door is the done thing. And has been done for many years. I’ve heard that some supermarkets in America will do that for you, but, to me, it seems far, far more popular in the UK.
5. Feeling more like your new culture than your old culture. I may sound American when I talk, but I’m not totally American in my heart anymore. I’m not totally British either. I wish I was, but I may never be. But I definitely feel more comfortable in the United Kingdom than I do in America. I am more comfortable driving here, shopping here, cooking here, sending my kids to school here, going to church here, chatting with friends here. I just am. I’ve embraced the culture as my own. Even back when I didn’t really understand or enjoy the culture, I made myself embrace it. And it worked. Now I love it.
6. Going through reverse culture shock. We visited America 2 years ago and it was tough. I was so intimidated. America is not the same as it was back when I left in 2004. So I came back to an America that was different than what I remembered. And even little things seemed hard. Like the time I struggled counting change at Chickfila. Here I am a grown adult woman, and I couldn’t figure out how much a quarter was. I also struggled using non-British vocabulary. One time I walked into a grocery store and asked if they had a toilet. The employee looked at me like I was so weird. In the UK, a toilet is the room that has a toilet in it. I just needed to go to the bathroom, but I couldn’t communicate that.
7. Teaching our children the history of both countries. I’ve not done a great job at this. But through the years, we have tried to tell our children the importance of learning about where mommy and daddy are from. Since all my children were born over here, America is a foreign country to them. But they still need to hear about where their parents grew up. We also make a bigger deal out of American holidays now that we have children. We skipped a few July 4th celebrations in the past. But now that our children are old enough to understand, we feel it is our responsibility that they know American history as well as British history.
8. Realising that our children will have to choose where to live someday. This one is the most difficult for me. People always ask me where I think my children will live when they grow up. I honestly have no idea. And I’m working at not having a preference. I really want my children to be able to decide for themselves where they want to live. And I don’t want them to feel like they will hurt my feelings if they choose either one. So for the most part, God is helping me trust Him with this. And actually, I’m a little excited for my children. That’s a pretty amazing thing to get to think about when you’re 18!
I know this doesn’t cover every area of biculturalism. And I feel like I have lived in a very easy part of the world so my experience has been small. I’m sure there are so many other missionary wives who could add a lot more to this list. But I hope you can appreciate the effort it takes for a missionary wife to try to fit in to 2 different places at one time.