I have two precious friends.
Both were born and raised in my host country.
Both are well-educated. Both speak English easily.
Even though they come from the same culture, they are very different.
Their perspective isn't the same, and I don't relate to them the same.
One day I realized that I speak more slowly, use more local expressions, choose a different vocabulary when I’m with Zahar. Her upbringing was more conservative; her faith and social views reflect that. I even dress more like her when we’re planning to do something together. I don’t talk about the same things with her as I would with Alitha, my other friend, who’s had exposure to different worldviews and is more open to new ideas. I use much more western expressions or references with Alitha, even though she is also thoroughly representative of her culture. I have to chuckle at my attempts; maybe she’s just better at adapting to me! But, honestly, I relate to them differently because I value each of them. --Sara
Sara is a third culture kid (TCK) with a background that has given her a cross-cultural way of thinking…the successful tentmaker’s mindset. We visited with her to find out what that actually looks like in everyday, in real life--how she sees herself and how it affects how she relates to others.
Sara, it seems you relate easily to other cultures. How did you learn to adapt so easily?
I know I've learned to observe a lot. I listen. Especially when I’m in a new place. I try to put together where a person is coming from. Do they reflect the larger group, or is this something unique to them? Their perspective may not be representative of their culture. I try not to generalize too early.
Sometimes I’m very intentional about adjusting to what’s around me; sometimes I do it more organically--without even thinking. I’ve had my friends point out to me that I change accents all the time, and I don’t even realize it. I can’t take credit. It’s just the life my parents gave me; I grew up outside our home country, and have mixed all my life with other cultures.
So does a tentmaker have to grow up in another culture to gain that intuitive ability?
It's interesting for me to look at my own experience. As a child I mostly grew up in my family’s world and I didn’t have to relate much to the world around me . When I went back to the same country as an adult, I realized I had never learned some of the basics of their world! But I found it powerful to immerse myself into their culture and not to be afraid of becoming "part of the family," like sisters and brothers. It not only creates beautiful relationships, but it helps us grow.
What advice can you give us for connecting with our friends from another culture?
Get out of your turf and onto others’ turf! A practical way of doing that is to try to understand the meanings of the words a person uses. Even if we’re speaking in the same language, the same words have different meanings.
Different meanings can make for a lot of misunderstanding...
Actually, misunderstanding is inevitable. I try to understand why something becomes a misunderstanding; I need to learn what a culture understands. Sometimes I should just let it go. Sometimes, if I sense a value disagreement, I may have to choose between accepting their understanding or challenging it. But even when I know their understanding should be challenged, that may not be the time or the place.
Some cultures challenge by debate. But I don’t like what debate does to me. When I don’t see things the same way, my goal cannot be to defeat the other person. I can lose a friendship I have invested in. I want to find ways I can support them so we can both come closer to an understanding.
And I always want to be ready to apologize, although even apologies can be misunderstood in another culture. But humility is not a western trait, it is Christ’s trait. Some cultures will admire you for an apology. Others won’t. Either way, the humility of Christ is something I want to emulate.
What kinds of things can you learn from someone who is so different than you?
I can learn the way God has helped them, where God is active in their lives. It can be where I least expect it. I’ve had friends who have had God speak to them audibly, telling them things like “Get under the table” or “Stay at home.” And that is before they have ever been challenged to consider Jesus. I have learned that God is willing to let people know He is present and working before I get there with my witness! --SL