06 February, 2015

Culture shock: building relationships

I wrote a number of these culture shock posts early in our time back in Australia. Here's another. 

Our time in Australia is quite focused in many ways, but especially relationally. We're spending time catching up with people from different eras in our lives. People who've stayed in touch despite the odds and continue (in many cases) to pray for us.

Here are some friends I've not spent too much time with, but
we did bond at wrestling meet bleachers last year.
I'd love to get to know them better, but time is a challenge.
But our focus is also on building new relationships. That's been especially the case for us coming back to a different home church. You can see that in this post about time we've spent with people at church and this one about the Australia Day weekend.

But I have to say that there is a challenge with building relationships. We are acutely conscious of time. Our time here is limited, so the temptation is to try to rush things.

To make things worse, we've learnt to rush relationships with other expats in Japan. Transition is a constant part of our lives in Japan and we're often saying goodbyes, but then new hellos. So making new friends is a common part of our existence. However we don't know how long we will have together, so the tendency is to rush deep quickly. I have very good friends in Japan with whom I've spent relatively little time.

Here is a friend who I'd love to spend more time with.
Though she's an Aussie, we're rarely in the same country
at the same time. She works in Taiwan. This photo was
taken in Hong Kong where we attended
writer's retreat together.
I came across an excellent blog post that talks about the difference between TCKs (third culture kids) and monocultural (people who've never left their passport country) and relationship building. I feel a little annoyed sometimes at these TCK articles because they generally ignore those of us who are neither monocultural or TCK, but in fact share many of the same characteristics as TCKs because we've lived outside our home culture for a long time.

Nonetheless, the below extract explains about the time challenge we face in building relationships.
Why do TCKs  [Wendy: I would also insert cross-cultural workers here] do things so differently? There are several reasons, really. The greatest of them is the awareness that time is limited. We’ve lived so long in a world saturated with both expected and unexpected goodbyes that we enter each relationship anticipating that it could end at the drop of a hat—when circumstances, mission mandates, finances or the inherent transience of the international community rip us away from those we’ve loved.
We function as if there is no time—because so often, there isn’t! When we meet someone new, it’s as if an invisible timer has started a countdown. Quickly! Figure out who this person really is.
And how is this different to those who haven't been outside their country's borders for any length of time? 
Mono-culturals function completely differently. They observe a steady descent through well-defined relationship levels—not because they’re shallow, but because it’s the progression that makes their culture comfortable. -
She gives a particularly helpful graph, showing how we all end up in the same place, just take a different route. And she explains that there are good and bad things about both routes.

People at church are starting to ask, "When are you going back to Japan?" and say things like, "Ouch, we'll miss you when you go." Yep, but it is a good "ouch" because that means that despite the short time, we've managed to get to know people to a sufficient level for our relationships to be meaningful.

I hope I haven't shocked too many people by trying to go deep fast. It is something that's shocked me in the past, that people here spend so much time in superficial conversation (see my posts from last home assignment here and here).

Have you had a shock in trying to build relationships in different communities? I know that once your children are out of the early years at school it is difficult to meet and build relationships with other parents from school. That's just one example. I also remember a friend lamenting that it is harder to build relationships in your 30s and beyond, than it was when we were younger. What do you think?

1 comment:

KarenKTeachCamb said...

This raises some great points Wendy. The whole relationship building area is a challenge for me anyway, for a whole raft of reasons outside of just cross cultural ones, but I think one of the things that makes it harder is being an older single (of the never married variety). As well as the cross cultural issues, there are the commonalities that we just don't have with couples our own age (like kids and grandkids), or even those who have been married are single again. Time, is a big issue, because relationships take time. I'm thankful for those friendships I have built over my years here in Cambodia, and especially thankful for the one Aussie single female friend. Even among friends from English speaking countries there are cross-cultural issues as I know you know.