Thursday, June 10, 2010

Embrace the Culture

As Elizabeth gets ready to head to Ecuador for a church mission trip, I wanted her to know to "embrace the culture."

This was given to me by my cousin Jamie, written by someone she knows... and it just speaks to the experience Elizabeth is about to have... in another culture!


When our youngest son graduated from high school, he went with a group of students on a school-sponsored trip to Germany and Austria, and, much to his unhappiness I’m sure, my husband and I went along as chaperones. The teacher who organized the trip did a great job of preparing the students for what they would see and emphasized time and again that the things the students would experience in Europe would be different from what they were accustomed to at home.

Prior to the trip, there were numerous meetings with the students, their parents, and the chaperones, and at each meeting, the teacher would say, “If you want to eat at McDonald’s, stay at home. If you want to hang out at the swimming pool, stay at home. If you want things to be like they are at home, stay at home.” His mantra was 'Embrace the Culture'. And on the trip, when the kids would complain about the food, long bus rides, cramped hotel rooms, unique plumbing, and unisex restrooms, he would repeat over and over again, “Embrace the Culture.”

Since that time, there have been many occasions when I’ve been reminded of those words. The most recent was on a trip to Italy . Believe me, I had no trouble embracing a culture that included vineyards, olive groves, rolling Tuscan landscapes, sumptuous pasta, and ancient villages perched on cliffs above the Mediterranean . However, the chaotic traffic in Florence at rush hour – as well as the unique plumbing and the unisex restrooms (which I may never get used to) – caused me to remember once again to “embrace the culture”.

We all know people who are “set in their ways”. Their way is the right way, and the only way. If the coffee isn’t just as they like it, if the towels aren’t folded in a certain manner, if the toilet tissue rolls backward instead of forward, they become annoyed and can make themselves, and everyone else, miserable. Being around people with “set-in-their-ways” attitudes makes me want to say, “Get over it! It’s just a cup of coffee, a towel, a roll of toilet tissue! It’s not a big deal.”

Whenever you find yourself in a new environment, you can be assured that some culture embracing will be in order. In a new workplace, a new role, a new neighborhood or a new relationship, as a guest in someone’s home or in a foreign country, you’re sure to discover that people’s likes, dislikes, habits and customs are different from yours. And that’s OK. In fact, it is precisely in those situations that you learn, stretch, grow, and have the opportunity to practice flexibility.

Certainly in areas of integrity and ethics, you need to stand your ground. On those things that are important and have long-lasting impact, being set in your ways can be a good thing.

But when it comes to the little things, those things that are temporary and are just a little different from what’s usual for you, learn to be flexible, and embrace the culture. You’ll be glad you did – and so will everyone around you. And you’ll be guaranteed more great days.

Copyright 2010, Julie Alexander

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