By Alicia and Jeff Lee
We have encountered a few different types of culture shock while living in Skopje, Macedonia. We’ve learned that culture shock can be surprising but not offending.
It can be annoying, or maddening. The more we travel the more we become familiar with the differences between cultures but that doesn’t always mean that those encounters will be any less “shocking” to us.
Take for instance the “simple” task of driving. Coming to Macedonia we knew that it would be very different than the environment of driving we had grown accustom to in Texas. But even now, nearly two years later, one of the most aggravating encounters we experience in our new culture is the environment of driving.
We can find ourselves moving from frustration to anger with each inconvenience we encounter. Common sights in Macedonia are often a car parked in the ONE LANE exit with no driver in sight; a car parked DIRECTLY behind you blocking you in, again with no driver in sight; and drivers passing you via the SIDEWALK (don’t get us started on the “simple” task of walking!).
It brings us little solace to see even the locals get angry about these similar, all-too-normal experiences. We often catch ourselves saying “I may never get use to THAT” but we have also noticed as we continue to adapt to the driving environment we begin to anticipate and brace ourselves for the inconveniences and process the shock a little more quickly than the last time.
While we have experienced our fair share of culture shock, we have been responsible for the shock felt by some of those around us. For instance, we raise eyebrows every time we walk our American-sized trash bags to the dumpster or when we emerge from our apartment with anything less than seven layers of clothes on in 50 degree weather!
We suspect the shock is beginning to wear off in those areas but one area of culture shock, in reverse, remains. About a year ago we had a waiter that, when we told him that we lived here, kept coming over to ask if we were sure that we wanted to live here. He even asked if we were here “against our will” and he offered to call the police if we need him to. He proceeded to explain that everyone in Macedonia is trying to get out of Macedonia so our decision to leave America and live in Macedonia was something he couldn’t understand.
Our desire to live in Macedonia is counter-cultural. Usually when we interact with locals their first question is “how long are you staying in Macedonia?” Expecting an answer of two weeks, three months, or at most a year, they are bewildered by our usual response of “we hope to live here for many years.”
It’s been our experience in Macedonia that culture shock is often a two-way street, much like the relationships we are building with those around us. Some of our deepest relationships to this point have emerged from vulnerability in the culturally shocking encounters we’ve experienced or have been responsible for.
So while we don’t always enjoy or appreciate the feelings associated with culture shock, we have gained an appreciation for how God can use those situations to grow us and to build relationships with the people we meet.
Alicia and Jeff Lee serve as Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel in Skopje, Macedonia. Learn more about their ministry via the CBF website and check out their blog A Work in Progress.