Let's talk transition--more specifically moving from one culture into another.

You just packed up your life in one suitcase, two if you’re lucky, and moved to a brand new city and quite possibly a brand new country.  You just left the familiar.  You just said good-bye to your car, to your regular routine, to a job that you were good at, to your family, to your favorite grocery store, and your favorite cereal.  Tears were shed as you packed, anxiety was battled as tickets were purchased, and prayers were prayed as money came in.  As you got on the airplane, there was a sense of accomplishment.  I did it.  I raised enough money, I packed everything in under 50 pounds, and I grieved what I was leaving.  I said "good good-byes".

What you were not prepared for, perhaps, is what it looks like when you step off the plane:

1. You will still feel loss. 

I call this the second grief or chaos stage. Just because you said good-bye to all you know and cried about it doesn't mean that you aren't still grieving.  The reality of those losses only becomes more heightened when the holes are visible.  Those friends you spent every weekend with will seem even further away because they are not there.  The worship that you sung every Sunday will be gone.  More specifically you will feel

Relational Loss
You will feel completely unknown and that can be hard to swallow. Starting over is a slow agonizing process and it takes time; time to get to know your team, new friends, fellow interns. But it's worth it to keep trying and pushing into relationships. These will be some of the closest friends you will encounter, trust me. 

Role Loss
What you used to do well you are no longer doing. Maybe the job you just left defined who you were.  You have just landed in a completely new city that you don’t know. You are a new intern, and sometimes that means doing things that you don't want to do, or don't know how to do. Your new role looks different and unclear. Language is new. Money is new. Everyday things like buying groceries is new and it's something you are not good at. Most days that doesn't feel so good, and it's ok to grieve that loss. 

2. You are learning a new normal

Things take time and everyone is on a different timeline. Doing new things that you don't know how to do is stressful, but just as we all learned how to talk and walk, you will learn them again in this new context. It all takes time to learn, but you will learn it. What is important to remember is that everyone is on a different timeline. Just because the other intern is picking up the language faster than you doesn't mean that you won't. You may have mastered the city transit faster. We all learn and do things in our own way, so don't compare yourself with others. Learn at your pace, celebrate your victories, and know that you will learn the new normal. Have grace with yourself. Buying groceries, learning where to buy that specific lightbulb, or what train to take, is a lot of work when you first start. It's ok to feel exhausted after doing what is considered so "normal". Award yourself, that you got the food you need, gave the right directions to the taxi driver and made it home in one piece!

3. Don't fight it, embrace it

The sooner you give up keeping what "home" is to you, the more you will feel at home in your current environment. As stated before, learning a new normal takes time, but the less you fight it the more you will learn to embrace it. To expect things to be as they were at home is something you were told not to do during your trip preparation. But despite our best intentions we all come with our expectations. We also come with our identities, stemming from the cultures in which we were raised. This affects how we embrace our new culture and how quickly we accept this new normal. Lay down your expectations. Guaranteed the people, the systems, the food, the country are not what you expected, but adopt a learning posture. Soon, after you start embracing, you'll realize your new environment actually has better cheese, better fruit, better modes of transit, and yes, maybe even better people. Each culture and place has its gems, you just have to take time to realize what they are.

4. Your dysfunctions will come alive

Being out of your comfort zone and learning things all over again can bring out the very worst in you. Things you thought were dealt with, and things you thought were really hidden will come out in full force. Be aware that these soul issues, life patterns, strongholds, and lies you believe will become accentuated. Some of this is due to the stress you are under each day. Some of it is the reality that you are in a spiritual war. The enemy wants you to go back home and he will use whatever he can to get you there. Be honest with yourself and others during these times where the broken parts get the better of you. It's important to recognize that we are all broken people, but that God is merciful. God is going to use this time to heal these parts of you and to teach you things about yourself and your relationship with others. 

In Part II we'll address the transition back "home" after experiencing another culture.  

Sarah Schepens currently lives Paris where she is the intern coordinator with Envision . She lived in Ecuador and Thailand before getting her MA in Intercultural Studies. She most recently lived in the Middle East developing interns and working with women in sustainable business. She passionately develops leaders and loves walking with them as they engage in different cultures, passions, and creative expressions. She appreciates all things beauty, fashion, expression, and unique creative outlets. When she's not out drinking [coffee] with friends or exploring new cities, Sarah loves cozy pants, slippers, lots o' blankets, and her favorite show.