It’s a slow process, but moving overseas changes you. We’ve now lived in the UK over 2 years and I’ve spent some time thinking how I’ve changed over this time. I’m afraid if I don’t stop and articulate these changes, then I may not be able to see them in future. So, here goes.
1. I ask a lot more questions.
Many times this was simply necessary in order figure out how to sort out simple things like travel, bank accounts, and food, but it’s now a habit. I’ve become more inquisitive and I’m learning to ask better questions.
2. I think more globally.
Living in one of the world’s most diverse urban centers, you are forced to encounter people from all over the world. You begin to think about how others might do things differently given their cultural background and you grow to respect & appreciate those differences. For example, we can’t throw a BBQ without thinking about vegetarian options or purchasing Halal meat. Thinking globally encourages you to consider the needs of others and learning to accommodate. I didn’t have a vote in the EU referendum. However, I was shocked (and a little saddened) by the result. Not to dismiss any of the legitimate issues regarding the EU and the need for reform, but in an increasingly globalised world, I think integration and collaboration is important, but not easy. The younger generation definitely believes this is true. Obviously, the Gospel of the Kingdom is the only way nations will ultimately be united, but I think working towards Rev. 7:9 is a noble venture. I know many would disagree with me about globalisation and the EU, these are simply my initial thoughts. I admit my naivety on the EU issues.
3. I see my home culture differently.
This is unavoidable when you’re transplanted into another culture. You see the good, bad and the ugly of your home culture. You also see the good, bad and ugly in your new culture. It’s often really hard to articulate these differences. And when you do, you risk being misunderstood. You realise every culture thinks they do some things better than others. You learn to categorise these differences not as necessarily wrong, but simply different.
4. My views have changed.
This has a lot to do with #1-3 since your ideas are inevitably influenced by your context. Your views around issues such as poverty, social healthcare, gun control, politics, immigration etc. will likely be challenged. Issues you thought you had sorted, now become either more complex or clearly simplistic. Be careful, some may see your shifting as unorthodox or “liberal.”
5. I’ve grown to appreciate the diversity of the global church.
We partner with a wide range of organisations and churches and it takes time to understand the structures, tradition and ethos of various groups. I remember when we first arrived in the UK it felt like we had stepped back 30+ years in regards to church culture. But again, I had to learn that was my cultural lens in which I was looking through. I came from a culture that was quick to change and adapt and think creatively outside of the box, almost too regularly. I’ve found, generally speaking, that churches are slower to change in my new context. I think there are many reasons for this(tradition, fear, resources), but there are some things I’ve grown to appreciate. For starters, the celebrity christian culture is not as strong. It’s still here, but not as strong. Second, church is messier. Many churches are less of a production and more of a family gathering. It’s often loud and chaotic with children everywhere but there is something good about this, but often hard to find the right balance. Thirdly, shared leadership is really valued. In many ways this is a must because most churches can’t hire full-time staff. You have more laity leading out front using their gifts. This is a good thing.
6. I’ve become more confident in my identity in Jesus.
I know that may sound a bit churchy, but it’s true. When I meet new people and they learn I come from the States, that often evokes a myriad of assumptions. This is especially true if they learn I’m a Christian! I must be homophobic, dislike immigrants, suffer from Islamophobia, and a Trump supporter. Eeek! Assumptions also occur in many Christian circles too! In many ways this is unavoidable, but I try to deflect these assumptions and rest in my identity in Jesus. This comes at a risk though. You risk being misunderstood and it’s hard for people to define you and put in some sort of box.
7. It’s hard to define home.
There are definitely things you miss about your home culture and things you’ve come to love about your new culture. As such, it’s a struggle to define home. No doubt the longer you are in a new place the more that place becomes home. This probably occurs at different times for different people. I think I crossed that line some time ago. It doesn’t help when people ask you, “So, how long are you gonna be here? When are you going home?” I don’t know, maybe they just don’t like me and want me to leave, ha! I could be wrong, but I don’t think you can be fully present and “all in”, until you think of your new culture as home.