Monday, October 22, 2012

Unveiling the Difference of the Different

I’ve always thought the term “culture shock” sounded over-dramatic.

In the time leading up to the semester, our group had heard our fill of “beware’s” about the cultural differences to come during our time in Romania—how we’d consistently be pushed out of comfort zones, hitting personal lows in this new environment. In response to this, I specifically recall the statement “Well, I feel like my comfort zone is being out of my comfort zone” naively escaping my lips.

To save face from too much shame, the personal trait this statement stems from is my love to take new experiences head on. I aim to dig deeply into opportunities and take on new ideas that revamp my previous ways of thinking. I feel as though I don’t often hold back when it comes to trying something new, and I get frustrated with myself if ever a situation arises that hampers me in this respect—I have recognized the fruits that grow from the labor of challenges in an individual’s life, and I desire to better understand the part God allows us to play in His world after enduring trials.

So in theory, this mindset sounds great: go abroad, feel the pull, walk through the valleys of life, and by the grace of God come home “perfect.”—Inner-turmoil doesn’t sound so bad from the outside. A healthy dose of doubt would spice things up, and acquiring questions has to be more exciting than the alternative…or, so it initially seems.

I found myself in a rut last week, one which was not noted right away—a lack of “solid calling for the future” here, a dose of “questioning my role in a group” there…all coated in the weariness of a language barrier to subtly take away just enough energy to hamper productivity. When those around me didn’t appear as worn and wearied, my analytical nature kicked in. I began thinking to myself, “God, what is this? I was initially so excited and ready to learn…why would you choose these means of all possible means to challenge me…”

And I’d had such nice and neat plans for growth mapped out ahead of time…

My constant thinking was an ever-present haze that clouded my mind throughout the days; I knew I was reaching the point where my thoughts would come to the surface, presumably in a way that broke my composed shell which so desperately wanted to state “Not to worry, I’ve got everything covered.”—It ended up being a simple conversation of “How are you doing?” with a few other girls over our lunch break. After failing to dance around what was really on my mind, I finally allowed a disheartened admittance of my stressed soul. It was this wise statement of one of the young women that got me thinking: “Go easy on yourself; you can’t expect this much growth in such a short amount of time.”

And with that, my own eagerness had bested me—I was so ready to find the loophole of “change without challenge” in experiencing a new culture that I was taken aback when I couldn’t swallow so much new in a single dose.

As one of our lectures put it, “Studying different cultures simply makes you more aware that things could be different.” This statement holds so much conviction for the inner-self as well—a lack of solid calling can later bring about a different, more fulfilling direction than initially planned; having a different role in a group has the potential to be an enlightening experience, with new skills and facets to a personality just beginning to be refined and utilized; the difference between the knowledge one has and the knowledge one desires creates an awareness of all there truly is to learn, and can make the desire to pursue knowledge more attainable by taking it one day at a time.

It is only through time that the foreign becomes the familiar, in both cultural practicalities and personal development. As Dana best put it in a lecture on virtues: “People need to learn how to be happy in the midst of striving for goals.” The desire for instant gratification in the human nature demands to see tangible growth through our experiences, without giving much rest for the moments we’re not entirely sure what to make of what we’ve been given. It is then that we must acknowledge that we are continually growing, only seeing the difference after our new and broadened horizons are in full view—the conquered inner-valleys are much more recognizable from the mountain peak, and it’s only then that we realize why the landscape was so vast and varied during the journey.

It seems that part of the “shock” factor in culture shock is that we never know the potential form of different we could be in a genuinely different scenario. It was said we would experience it in our own, individual ways once here—For me, it was fully resting in the current journey, acknowledging the purpose it serves as a precursor to all others that are to come.

It was coming to terms with the fact that I could be a more different type of me and still make sense out of life.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Good Life

If there has been a theme for my past six weeks in Romania, it would definitely be the pursuit of “the good life.” I came to Romania as a part of a long search for what could be called “shalom,” “abundant life” or “a life lived deeply.” For a myriad of reasons, I wanted to figure out what a life well-lived looked like. To my surprise, I found fellow searchers here in Romania among my classmates and the NHF staff.

In homework and conversations, “the good life” has come up again and again, almost to the point of becoming a joke. Many of the articles assigned in our Experiential Education class and lectures by Dana Bates and Kadie Becker have mentioned “the good life.” Here in Lupeni, I am finding “the good life” through the actions of Jesus-loving individuals who are his hands and feet. Through these individuals, I am also learning that good development asks the same questions I have been asking. John 10:10 has become a theme verse for the past 6 weeks. “I came that [you] may have life and have it abundantly.” The closer we draw the Jesus, the more life we have.

Each week, another layer has been added to my understanding of “the good life.” On our Retezat hiking trip, I was given life through experiencing so much beautiful nature, learning about Celtic spirituality, fellowship with new friends over campfires, and conversations while hiking. Some of those conversations and some after have demonstrated that “the good life” looks different for each person. Therefore, I have been on a mission lately to discover what “the good life” looks like for me. Reflecting on my Retezat experience for an Experiential Education paper, I found a fundamental part of what 'the good life” looks like in my life to be focusing on the smaller parts of a larger goal. In my reflection paper, I wrote the following: “I believe I am living a deep life now, but I want to live a deeper one. This will always be my goal, I think. I want to see the world in deep colors and with rich meaning everyday, but focus on small portions of accomplish-able goals.”
My definition of “the good life” is evolving and will look different when I travel home in December. For now, it is the pursuit of joy, health, community, adventure, and God. It is also acknowledging what is good in my life already and drawing those aspects out more. Last week, Kadie and Dana lectured on happiness. It was one of my favorite lectures so far this semester. What I took away that day was the importance of looking for happiness and joy in my life and fostering those aspects in my life. One way of doing this (while connecting to my resolutions from Retezat) has been making small, everyday goals that will promote happiness and shalom in my life, and keeping myself accountable to accomplishing those goals by the “happiness club” a few students and I are forming. This experiment is still in the beginning stage, but I have found myself blessed by more joy already.

The “happiness project” is just one way I hope to live a better life here in Romania, but I think it will bleed into my overall health, my relationships here with the wonderful community I am a part of, the big and little adventures of living in Romania, and my relationship with my maker. Here's to the pursuit of “the good life” and more adventures too!