Posted by: janpierce | January 23, 2008

On Being Foreign

K.M. loaned me a very interesting book on cultural issues called On Being Foreign. It is organized into five sections relating to the five stages of culture shock: preliminary, spectator, increasing participation, shock and adaptation. There is also a section on re-entry into the native culture which has its own unique challenges. This is an older book, but is still relevant as the issues are timeless. There are selections from authors world-wide including Kipling, Camus, Hesse, Stephen Crane, Katherine Mansfield – a total of twenty stories in all. Some stories are humorous as individuals visiting a new country misunderstand or are misunderstood. Others are darker as cultural barriers cause great loss to the one adjusting to a new culture. My favorite so far is a story called Saree of the Gods by G.S. Sharat Chandra, It follows an Indian couple as they migrate from Bangalore to New York City. The husband, much more eager to adapt and fit in, meets American co-workers and immediately invites them home for dinner. The wife begins a painful adaptation to a new culture that appreciates nothing of her Hindu lifestyle and values. Her one treasured possession, her wedding sari, is ruined by a careless, drunken American woman and with that event she experiences a loss of identity, personal history and worth. To the offending American it is just a stain on a piece of fabric.
Short stories, being a “slice of life” are very well-suited to exploring the various emotions, thoughts, experiences and processes of adjustment that any traveler to a foreign land must go through. They offer a kind of freeze-frame on cultural encounters and give the reader an entry point to analysis of the issues involved in being foreign.

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Responses

  1. Hi Jan,

    Cathy R. and I were talking yesterday and telling each other how much we love and miss you. Today is the first time that I have checked out your website – it’s beautiful! Have you started teaching yet? As I was reading your entry about culture shock I couldn’t help but wonder which stage you are in. Chad keeps bringing up wanting to go on a trip to India at some point in the future – I think God is nudging both of our hearts toward missions in some way. Roger has had a big impact on Chad.

    We miss you guys. Sorry I haven’t been keeping in touch very much – I’ll try to keep in contact more frequently.

    Love you –
    Jill


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