Wednesday, October 22, 2008

My Experience, My Choice

A Missions Matter! blog giveaway post!

Rob Hatch is one of my high school classmates who had the privilege of being brought up in Ecuador. He sent me an article he wrote for an MK magazine about how living in another culture impacted him, and continues to impact his character, over 20 years later. Rob is managing internet user interface design for Unum - a large disability insurance company in Chattanooga, TN. When not geeking out about design and web construction, he's running after three kids and trying to be loving to a wonderful wife. He is also an elder at New City Fellowship, a very diverse PCA church that focuses on racial reconciliation and mercy ministry in the urban setting. A long bike ride once in a while keeps things sane...

Here are some excerpts from Rob's article:

Cultural Marginalization: My Experience, My Choice
by: Rob Hatch

My experience of returning to my parents' home culture for the first time was probably pretty typical. I got off the plane from Ecuador and entered a third grade classroom where three passions were raging: Star Wars, Kiss and Elvis Presley. I was completely bewildered. All I was thinking about was my favorite soccer team: Liga Deportivo Universitario and the salsa music I so enjoyed at street festivals in Quito. There was no one who shared these passions. When the kids taunted, “Ecuador? Where’s that…” something deep occurred in me. I recognized myself to be very different from those around me. The interests of my life, the places I loved, the dreams of what I considered a life lived well – were not shared with those around me. I felt culturally marginalized.

This experience is surely typical of most third culture kids, and my reaction to that marginalization was probably also typical. Otherness proved to be a wall that kept me from anyone else in that 3rd grade classroom. I remember isolation and silence. Life was focused on the date of return to the place that I called home, rather than on reaching out in any meaningful way to the world around me. My mantra became, “this season too will pass” knowing soon enough I would return to that place where I felt comfortable and called home.

Yet when I look back now, the simple story of cultural marginalization doesn’t speak completely to the reality of what was going on in my heart. That year I begged so insistently to see the Star Wars movie that my parents decided a preview viewing was in order. They sat straight through two showings of the movie before taking us. I was hooked. The imaginary world of Jedi Nights and space battles became an enthralling play-scape – exactly as it was to many of my 8 year old school mates. There were aspects of culture and experience in that classroom that called to me, that I yearned for. There were ways for me to connect with the world around me and places where the otherness receded and a common experience became bond and friendship – even identification. Those kids would never understand the glories of Liga Deportivo Universitario – but our common play-scape proved a place of connection.

Many years later Dave Pollock fleshed out this powerful lesson at a re-entry seminar. He taught me that being this unique amalgamation of cultures presented me with a choice. I could see it as a powerful tool to be used well as a bridge, or as a paralyzing liability that built walls between myself and all others. It is this choice of how we handle third culture identity that affects our experience of marginalization in any culture.

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One of the riches of the third culture experience is the ability to understand the cues and tactics useful in living fully in any culture. My wife has laughed at me after leaving some very stereotypical gathering, be it in Appalachia in Tennessee, or PorteƱo in Buenos Aires – saying “They probably have no clue that you aren’t just like them.” The fact that I work hard to fit in does not become a rejection of my cultural complexity. I don’t believe this is an either-or situation. I think it is perfectly acceptable to talk exclusively about Tennessee Football in one setting and River Plate Soccer in another. The fact that I know them both doesn’t mean I need to impose both on a group that does not. Nor do I feel particularly threatened or marginalized when I don’t understand the passions of a culture. I listen and learn.

Some times my wife has expressed frustration with my ability to identify with all people. She says “In the final analysis who are you?” There is danger in having no center of identity, in living solely to adapt to the culture where you find yourself. Building bridges does not mean rejecting the complexity of all it is I am. I choose to maintain my love of Salsa Music, even though I might not try to teach my Appalachian friends to appreciate it. There is also danger in never moving beyond participation, full as it may be, into disclosure and intimacy. In true community – of course -- the fullness of my identity is exposed and appreciated, even if it is not always understood. My experience has been that after I have made the effort to understand and participate fully in a particular culture – those there have been willing to listen and appreciate the “otherness” that I am. She will never love my soccer teams, but my wife does appreciate and enjoy listening to the glories of Liga Deportivo Universitario.


Rob's article is great because it explains what so many MKs experience and deal with, as well as how living in other cultures has a lasting impact on us. Even though I was only in Ecuador for six years, I experienced similar situations when I returned back to the States, and like Rob, I've found my time in another culture to be a huge bonus feature to who I am, enabling me to be comfortable in many situations. Thank you, Rob, for sending this and letting me post excerpts. It's a great article!

Coming up within the next week will be Rich Brown's jail experience while on the mission field.

Also, don't forget--I'd love to hear from more of you! Whether it's a post about a missionary book, about missionaries you know or heard speak, a missions conference, a missions trip, ANYthing to do with missions. Just post it on your blog (and if you don't have a blog, send it to me and I'll post it for you!) then come back here and add your name and the url to that particular post to the link gadget, which is at the end of my 40 till 40 post.

Missions Matter! ~Blog Giveaway coming November 12th!


5 comments:

  1. Interesting perspective! This series was a great idea!

    (BTW, thanks for putting my in your sidebar! :$ )

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  2. So fascinating, and incredibly well-written. It gives me a perspective I NEVER would have imagined. I am learning so much through this emphasis, dear Patty. Thank you so much for opening my eyes.

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  3. Wow, this is eye-opening for sure! Thank you so much for ministering to us with these rich, meaningful stories and testimonies. I've learned so much already!

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  4. Oh, boy...do I relate to this!

    I was nine when we came back from the Bahamas. I was so culturally different. I think I never regained the difference, and probably for the best.

    It taught me not to fit into the world's system, that this world is not my home...just passing through....that it's ok to be different for the Lord.

    Thanks, Peej, for this.

    Vonnie

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  5. Ok, so last night, our latest, Kelvin Chimborazo (actually his apellido) gets out of bed at three in the morning goes down to chicken house 100m away and chases all the chickens out grabs one and kills it strangled walks up to house deck and is found sleeping hugging dead chicken at about 5 am. He spent aft with shrink...she had a brilliant technique of telling him they wanted to interview him for a world wide tv program (lie)--he actually told his story several facts have checked out and he is now on national tv, we know his mom took off to Italy, his dad is unknown, pray.---Ok, Kelvin is 14, he's smaller than Elijah, my 11 yearold, Kelvin is blind in one eye and a bit slow minded for some reason, but a tender kids heart. God bless his soul.

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