Friday, January 28, 2011

Cross Cultural Living: A Chance to Embrace Humility

When you first move overseas you’re less competent than most children in your host country. You can’t speak the language right. You don’t know how things work or where anything is. You lack the know-how to get simple jobs done. You can’t even cook a meal that people will like. (See my last post.) Living cross culturally puts you in a humbling position of weakness.

Occasions to be Humbled

Living in Turkey for 10 years, I’ve had many occasions to be humbled. Here are a few:

• One day in the kitchen years ago my “Turkish mother” showed me the right way to chop a bell pepper. The way I was doing it was wrong. I smiled and silently began chopping the pepper her way, but I was fuming inside. Why does it matter how I chop this pepper? What’s with her? I wish I were more mature.

• Another time at a Bible study group, I handed out the new songbooks I’d had made. We took an offering to help pay for the books, and one of the members announced to the group, “We shouldn’t ask foreigners to do jobs like this. Betsy got ripped off.”

• One night at my folk dancing class our group finally mastered a difficult new dance step. I smiled to the woman next to me and said, “I think we’re finally getting it.” She repeated, “I think we’re finally getting it” in an exaggerated American accent. Ouch.

• Later that same evening, an American friend Brenda and I were talking with a group, and several women laughed and made fun of Brenda’s accent. She turned as red as a beet! I didn’t care so much about one person imitating me, but I was upset by a group making fun of poor Brenda! As we left dance class I thought, “We really do not need this. We give up everything to come and serve the Lord here, and what do we get? People making fun of our accent!”

Why do situations like these bother me? They hurt my pride. Being taught to chop a bell pepper when you’re 28 can be humbling. Being told you got ripped off is humbling. Being teased in front of others is humbling. My pride rebels, and I have two natural reactions:

1. To justify myself. I KNOW how to cut a bell pepper. Or I don’t deserve this treatment.

2. To compare my country to Turkey. In America people would never make fun of a foreigner’s accent. Yeah, right. Think again.

Chances to Grow

In reality, these situations are small chances to grow, but I have to choose my attitude. I can cling to my wounded pride and become resentful. Or, even though it goes against everything inside of me, I can choose to adopt the same attitude Jesus had. “He made himself nothing,…He humbled himself.” (Phil. 2:7a,8) Jesus wouldn’t take it personally if someone made fun of his accent. He would just smile and keep loving that person.

His Word reminds me, “Clothe your selves with humility toward one another because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5) Okay, Lord, I ask you for grace. The next time I’m reminded that I’m a foreigner, help me to thank you for the chance to embrace humility. Help me to have the same attitude Jesus would.

Any comments?

Check back next week when I'll share “What I Can Learn From Turks.”


Michael said...

Making fun of your accent? Craziness. Which of your four languages were you speaking? Ha ha. Make sure you show me the proper way to cut a bell pepper next time I see you as I am surely doing that wrong too ;)

OliveTree said...

Yes, I think occassional teasing about our accents is a normal part of living overseas. I realize we do this to foreigners in America too! Some days I blow it off, some days it is frustrating.

Choate Family said...

Oh, I think we must be connected somehow across the ocean! Today I made a big goof buying what I thought was zucchini but turned out to be a bean to dry and use to scrub your body! Thanks for your sweet reminder about humility.

OliveTree said...

Yes, goofs are a daily part of my life too!

Shanda said...

I appreciated this. Having lived most of my life overseas (including Costa Rica!) I understand that fact that we have to give up some of our 'rights' that we assume for various reasons. Submission is humbling. On the contrary, I have moved back to the US now and have to keep my mouth shut at times because I think my 'worldy' ways make more sense!

OliveTree said...

Oh that is true too, Shanda! I never thought about this this from the position of returning home! Good to keep in mind for myself some day.