By Gemma Creasy
When I first arrived here in the Philippines I had the awesome opportunity to go scuba diving in a nearby coral reef. To be honest it was something that I never actually wanted to do in my life as I’m not too keen on extreme sports. But when the chance arose I got caught up in the excitement and signed myself up. We arrived at the beach and began our ‘discovery dive’ training.Our training began by trying on and testing all our equipment on land, we had to ensure that all was working as it should and that it was the correct size for our weight and body shape. We breathed through the mouthpieces, put on the masks, and looked like absolute fish out of water. As we stumbled towards the water with our flippers on I began to feel sick with fear. The thoughts of “what if I do something wrong that stops the oxygen?”; “What if my life jacket doesn’t blow up to allow me to float up to the surface?”; “What if there is a shark or jellyfish, or worse?!” crossed my mind. I am not one to enjoy swimming in the ocean, and I am not a good swimmer. But the one thing that gave me comfort is that I had a man from Australia who had been diving all his life talking me through all the steps and assuring me that nothing would go wrong. When I felt it was too much he would allow me to come up for air. When my mask would fill with water, he would show me numerous times how to clear it until I was confident. After an hour of fumbling through the gear on the shores of the beach and trying to get used to the unnatural feeling of breathing through my mouth alone, we headed out to the ocean depths. I would be lying if I said I wanted to do it. I would have quite happily sat on the boat and enjoyed the view instead, but I knew that it was an opportunity I shouldn’t miss. I flopped backwards off the boat and the journey began. At the start I had complications; my breathing tube stopped working, my mask kept filling with water, and the weights attached to my body were not enough to allow me to sink down into the reefs. After these things were altered my guide allowed me to take my time. The rest of the group were long gone; they had headed off to explore a ship wreck. And here I was still flailing at the surface. I decided either I pull out, or just go for it despite all my fears. I pressed the button to release the air in my life vest and slowly sank down into the ocean depths. At first I was so focused on not standing on the coral and breathing regularly that I didn’t really notice the beauty that was around me, but after about 30 minutes breathing came easily and gliding through the ocean began to feel like a dream. There were so many beautiful fish swimming all around me, red, blue, orange, green. The corals were like mountains and caves that you could explore. This place was pure and unspoilt, the most beautiful nature I have ever seen, but it required me to completely overcome my fears, to go beyond ‘comfortable’ in order to be enveloped in this beauty.Now I know this is a long winded way to express this, but I hope you can put yourself in the situation and imagine what it would feel like – maybe you have been scuba diving yourself and you felt the same way.Dealing with culture shock for me is much like my scuba diving experience. I had the training and was immersed in the waters of culture to an extent when I attended Eastwest (a college of intercultural training). As I lived communally with people from all over the world I was exposed to differences in ways of communication and lifestyle. The smells of kimchi and dried fish shocked my system (not to mention the good old durian!).
A year later as I hopped on a plane to the Philippines, fear and excitement gripped me, those same feelings I felt as we went out on the boat to the diving spot. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew it wouldn’t be easy. As I arrived in the Philippines and started life here I felt like I had jumped into the water but was gasping for air. My body didn’t work as it should, I got sick, the heat was overwhelming, the food freaked me out, I was constantly exhausted, and didn’t even have the strength to socialize. I continued to challenge myself to step out despite these things and to push to build relationships. I started to release the air from my life vest because I knew that there was something below those waters for me. As I moved into a house alone in a foreign country, my eyes filled with tears, I couldn’t see because of the depths of loneliness I felt. I dried my eyes, and stepped out to make friends. I was blessed with friendships with my neighbours and those in my community. They began to dive alongside me. As I studied language I had to take big breaths of air because it would drain all my strength. Step by step I begin to breathe more freely here. I still get choked up sometimes by all the unfamiliarities, but I know that these waters will someday soon become so beautiful and rich with life that I will be thankful that I conquered my fears and stepped out of my comfort zone. I must never forget, that as my diving instructor never left my side, God goes with me every step of this journey, and when I scream for help sometimes he will lend a helping hand, but other times he will allow me to learn valuable lessons in my discomfort.
So for now I’m diving down. I’m trusting the gear that has been given to me, using the training I have received, and trusting God each step of the way to show me what ocean depths he wants me in.
Crossing cultures is not easy. If you think you are immune to culture shock, I’m pretty sure you are not. Never in my life did I think that I would miss New Zealand tomato sauce and English TV shows (things that weren’t really important to me at home). But as I have stepped into the culture of the Philippines I have realised so many differences and things I miss from home.
If you are living cross culturally maybe you can relate to this, but if you haven’t experienced culture shock before, I hope this can give some insight into what cross cultural workers face in addition to their ministry. It’s easy to see serving God cross culturally as something that would come easy and naturally, but there are a lot of additional struggles to overcome along the way!
Thanks to Gemma for letting us share this story – originally posted on her blog: gemmacreasy.wordpress.com.