Cross-cultural training should be a must prior to any assignment no matter how 'easy' the expat thinks it will be. The head organizational psychologist for a G7 country's foreign service recently determined the highest degree of cross-cultural misunderstandings occurred in missions where the local population spoke English well. In other words: the greatest threat came not from the culture that was the most 'foreign', but from the one that was the most similar.
Source: Cross-Cultural Training for US Relocations, Robin Pascoe, www.expatexpert.com, December 2004
Those familiar with David Hackett Fischer's book, Albion's Seed, will understand that even moving from one region in the United States to another can cause a surprising case of culture shock. Fischer divides the U.S.into seven cultural regions: 1)The Northern Tier, which includes New England, the old northwest, the northern plains and the Pacific Northwest; 2) Greater New York; 3) Midland America, which extends from Pennsylvania west through the Ohio valley and the middle west to the Rocky Mountains; 4) The Great Basin, which includes a predominantly Mormon Culture in Utah and parts of Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming; 5) The Coastal South, that extends from coastal Maryland to the Texas coast near Houston; 6) The Southern Highlands, which includes Appalachia, the old southwest, the Ozark Plateau, and much of Texas and Oklahoma; and 7) Southern California.
I will celebrate one year working at Missions Resource Network tomorrow. Early on in my new work, I was reviewing and writing about culture shock and realized I was experiencing what I was writing about. I immediately thought of Fischer's book and reread his last section. Though this is a pill of a book, I highly recommend it to you. When I read his section on the borderers, it helped me understand more about the cultural side of the Restoration Movement.
I've said all of this to say, that adjusting to a very similar culture is hard work. I remember too well my first two years of adjustment to living in Amsterdam. However, imperceptibly over the next 15 years my way of thinking changed. I had no idea how much until I moved back to the states. I have since found by experience and by looking at the research that re-adjustment is often harder for expatriates returning from more westernized cultures like Europe or South America. Some cultures won't allow us to sink into their culture. We are always reminded that we are different. But I must quickly add, reentry is hard on anyone who has embedded him/herself into another culture - regardless. I will also add that it is not the amount of time spent on the field either. It is how embedded the expatriate was in the host culture.
Regardless of where we live, the most important cultural adjustment any of us need to make is the one we make when we follow Jesus. Our citizenship is not here. In order to make those imperceptible and intentional changes in our value system, we must keep our eyes on Jesus and be rooted in Him. I like Hauerwas' phraseology: Christians are resident aliens.