A large portion of our Engineering Ministries International orientation week was spent dealing with culture. Culture shock, cultural differences, cultural barriers, etc. I could write a ridiculously long post here and barely create a wrinkle in the proverbial burqa. The learning we did during our week was just the beginning. It convicted me that I really need to spend some serious time studying as much as I can before we go on our first project trip. My already-long-reading-list just got a mile and half longer.
Over the course of a couple of days we played a few games and role playing scenarios that were quite eye-opening, like Barnga. We were grouped up then paired with the person across the table from us. We had about two minutes to read the rules to a card game then play it while timed and with no talking allowed. The game was a bit like Spades, where you and your partner are both trying to win tricks based on certain suites trumping others, so it behooves one to be able to recall who has thrown down which card already. I am positively horrible at those types of card games. I get nervous. Picture a cow at a meatloaf convention, only more insecure. Oh, and we had to remember our points without writing them down. Both our own and our partner's. Did I mention I was like the ONLY theatre major in a room full of engineers?
Anyway, at the end of each round the winning pairs moved to a new table. That meant for the next round we were playing different pairs. Apparently everyone's rule sheets read slightly differently because we started noticing some people assumed aces were high and others played them low. The more competitive people wanted to argue that (with intense facial gestures), while the more mellow types just let it go and gave up the win. I was too dense to realize it during the course of the game, but the point was to see how difficult it can be to work on a design team with people who are playing by a different set of cultural rules, plus have a language barrier. It was supremely frustrating. For the record, my partner and I were right. I mean, aces are ALWAYS high. Just like American culture is always correct. (har)
One evening we split into four groups and were given a very brief description of a culture and ten minutes to decide how we would behave in social situations given our description. Then we were either guests or hosts for one of the other teams who came to our "home" to share a meal. My team was a reserved culture that used indirect communication and was polite to a fault. I think we were Asian. At least I sort of felt that way, because the way we all behaved left me feeling like an extra in The Karate Kid 2. Kevin's group was a lot more like Americans. When they visited us someone asked how he was doing and one of his "family members" blurted out that he had been fired for saying a bad word. Another group plopped themselves down on our sofa and would not leave no matter how many hints we dropped. Someone I barely knew poured out his heart to us and wailed over his grandmother's medical condition. They also handed me a really huge fake plant and I spent the remainder of our visit with it on my lap, blocking my view of everyone else, which was good because I had trouble stifling the giggles.
The entire exercise was hilarious. When we gathered to wrap up we all shared our main impressions of each other. Descriptions like, "disinterested frat boys" and "dazed and confused" were tossed out. Almost without fail we all noticed only the most negative aspects of the other cultures without allowing much room for grace. Another good lesson learned.
Amidst all the role playing and discussion and presentations, the biggest take-away I got was the reminder that every people group on the planet reflects not only the image of God but the taint of sin. We are all meant to be like Him, yet we are all stained by the fall and our failings. We all owe each other grace and we can only work together to improve things down here if we are willing to keep our hearts humble and our eyes fixed upward.
I'd sit here and write more about it but I have to go tackle that reading list.
We are missionaries with Engineering Ministries International, based in Colorado Springs, and traveling around the globe to serve.
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