29 August, 2012

Holidays and cross-cultural workers

Cross-cultural workers need holidays. Cross-cultural workers take holidays. It seems obvious.

But cross-cultural workers often find it difficult to take holidays. People in ministry generally do, but there are some extra factors that make it more challenging for cross-cultural workers.
  1. Location — this depends on where someone is working, but if you are stressed because of cross-cultural issues, it is challenging if you can't escape it, just a little, when you go on holiday. There can also be a lack of suitable holiday accommodation in-country. Many countries just don't take lengthy holidays like Australians do.
  2. Cost — typically cross-cultural workers are on a low wage and dependent on others for support. It isn't easy to make holiday plans if you are on a tight budget.
  3. Time — ministry is demanding and relentless. It is often hard to prioritise your needs above those around you in order to take time to rest.
  4. Friends and family — cross-cultural workers typically are not located near friends and family. Therefore they will want to spend time with these people during holiday time. Time spent with friends and family isn't always relaxing. It is challenging to balance the need to spend time on your own and spend time with these precious people.
  5. Travel — often a considerable amount of travel is involved if family and friends are to be seen or you want to travel away from the cross-cultural situation for a time. This is tiring on what is supposed to be down-time.
  6. Replacement — during your absence, ministry needs to continue in a place like a church, hospital, or support ministry. It often isn't easy to find replacements. Thankfully this isn't a problem for teachers.
  7. Cultural norms — not every culture has the same attitude towards holidays that Australians have.
  8. Climate — not every ministry location is a good place to take a relaxing holiday. When we first arrived in Hokkaido, we were surprised at how all the missionaries seemed to holiday between June and September. Some of that is related to school holidays, but the rest is that for those in Hokkaido, it is the only time when it is warm enough!
I'm sure if I thought a bit longer I could come up with more!

For those of us in Japan, numbers one and two are a big issue. As is the lack of self-catered holiday homes or units here. Japanese typically take only a few days holiday at a time and often spend them in expensive hotels. The solution to this for many missions and missionaries is to acquire houses/cabins in-country for budget holidays. We've also taken up tenting holidays. Flying to Australia from Japan is also expensive, that is the main reason we don't holiday in Australia every year.

With regards to number three. I always think of the passage in 1 Corinthians which reads:  
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (Ch. 3:16,17, NIV)
These are harsh words by Paul, but it's clear I have a responsibility to look after my body. If I don't, then not only will my ministry and others suffer, but I'm sinning against God.

Number four was an issue for us this last trip. One of the reason we hired a motorhome and drove to Uluru was so that we could have some time "on our own".  We met some Australians who have been involved in cross-cultural work within Australia. They expressed the same tension,   "How can we organise a holiday that doesn't involve meeting scores of friends and family without offending people?"

I didn't mention cross-cultural adjustments. Entering your home country again after being away for a while takes some adjustments. That can be stressful (although we didn't find it so this last time).

What other challenges do you think might face cross-cultural workers in trying to take time off?


KarenKTeachCamb said...

I can relate to most of these. A comment about "replacement". I know your post is about holidays, and yes, traditionally teachers don't have to be replaced while they are on holidays, but "replacement" is an issue from another perspective. Replacement teachers are really hard to come by in many cross-cultural settings and in the event of illness that can be a real problem. I'm actually glad that I got sick while I was still on holidays, because getting a replacement when you are sick is really challenging. Just another reason to pray for good health!
For single missionaries, it can be even more complicated. I've been really grateful for an OMF holiday home in Thailand that has provided me with respite and relaxation and is happy to cater for me as a single person. There's company if I want it, or I can enjoy doing things on my own as well. This isn't always the case, and for many singles, especially if you don't want to share a room with a stranger (and most introverts don't want that), there are extra costs for single accomodation.

Laurie Elliot said...

Now I'm curious... where do you take your holiday?

After reading your concerns, it seems like 3 weeks in one of the OMF houses at Takayama would suit your family's purposes. But I don't really remember ever seeing that you'd been there. Actually I don't think anybody's been this summer till Ballingers came in last week...

Wendy said...

Laurie, I'm not complaining, I'm just helping people understand some of the issues cross-cultural workers deal with. We usually holiday at Karuizawa, but we've also been camping several times over the last 14 months. Next year we're hoping to camp around Hokkaido after Field Conference. Neither of us like the beach, so we haven't tried Tak yet. Maybe one day...

Wendy said...

Karen, You're quite right about replacements for illness (and bereavement and any mid-year leave). The issues for singles crossed my mind, but I didn't include any specific to you, because I'm no expert! Maybe that is a post for you to do.

-J said...

Another *great* post! I think it's important as you said in your comment above to help people understand some of the unique factors.

Karen alluded to one that I dealt with - as a single woman, planning my vacation, and as an introvert wanting to be alone, it was sometimes hard to come up with something that would be safe, yet give me alone time.

I've been to both Nojiri and Tak, but both rather defeated my purposes of vacation. I was on a rather large team, and was usually introverted-out, if not burnt-out, by the time vacation came around. I was not in any mood for all the people at Nojiri or Tak.

It's been fun to follow along on your blog and see how your family has discovered camping as a workable getaway option. (Again, the prices in Japan ... even the transportation costs to GET to a mission vacation house ... are quite prohibitive.)

I think there's another reason or two that could be added to your list: Expectations of senders/supporters that we aren't going to "waste" their money (on trips to our home country, etc.), and fear of man (on our part), wondering "What will so-and-so think?" Not that those are healthy reasons, but I think they do exist sometimes. :(

I often spent money on airfare to another country (not always the USA) and then stayed with friends/relatives. My best vacation ever was in 2003, when the USD, JPY, and Euro exchange rates were all working amazingly in my favor, and I had frequent flyer miles for a free trip to Europe, and got a Xn worker's discount at a castle, where I ensconced myself for two weeks, while enjoying their English library and the Alpine views. But I always felt like I needed to defend the cost. (In actuality it was my cheapest vacation ever.)

OliveTree said...

You're hitting the nail on the head with this list!

Our context is different than yours! In Turkey (slower paced than Japan, shall we say) many people have a month for holiday, and many people in our socioeconomic level actually have a beach home, which we absolutely cannot afford!

But we're blessed to have some reasonably priced options available here on the Aegean Sea and with the Mediterranean down South.

I think it is hard for cross-cultural workers to feel justified in spending money on vacations, but they actually need them as much (or more!!!) than anyone...

Wendy said...

Judith, I think the social nature of Tak is another reason we've stayed away from there. When we're on holidays, we like to retreat from people, not spend more time with them.

And you're quite right about the worrying about what other people will think. I had a couple of FB friends raving about how cheap cruises were ($440 for 7 nights, all meals included per person, which is pretty expensive for a family of five!). But can you imagine what supporters would think if their missionaries went on a cruise!!

And I actually did hear some supporters when we were in Australia complaining about another missionary couple who always seem to be "popping" back to Australia.

Yes, Olive Tree, we tend to struggle to justify spending money on ourselves at all (hence my previous post about my reluctance in telling about some new "stuff"), but holidays are so essential in taking care of ourselves. By the way, I'd love to come over to the Mediterranean. So far we've not yet made it out of Asia!

Laurie Elliot said...

It was precisely to be alone that we came to Tak. We swore we'd never, never, never go - until our Director (Barry Potter) told us that that we wouldn't have to watch our kids if we went. Just think - a vacation where we could read without interuption! Hide away without anyone telling us they were "Bored!" We went and we never looked back because, although he had somewhat overstated the case. we did have a lot more freedom to hibernate - lie on the bed and read a zillion books - or maybe even sleep! (With 5 children sleep was a luxury indeed.)

Eventually we did become involved in community life - but I still spent most of my time this summer all by myself enjoying sweet solitude. (My first summer holiday in 36 with no children!)

Laurie Elliot said...

That's years - 36 years.