In part one of this two-part series, I shared four must reads for anyone interacting with others. If you haven’t done so already, choose one of the books and read it. I mean it! (Does anybody want a peanut?)

What I love about books is that I can enter into worlds other than mine – I can go to Africa, outer space, China in the 1920s, and work with gang members and ex-cons in California. But not all my learning is book learning, these five tips come from living in China, living in a group home for pregnant teens, working with men and women perpetrators of domestic violence, living in an international dorm, working with those from many denominations … you know, life!

5 lessons I've learned

1. You never know how X you are until you go to Y. In my case, I never realized how American I was until I moved to China. Of course I knew I was American. But I hadn’t counted on America had seeped into everything – not in a bad way, just rather thoroughly. I think many of us think “Yeah, yeah, I’m German (or whatever), but not THAT German.” Ha. I say it again. HA.

A few direct quotes from my mouth to illustrate. “Oh, you need to use your elbows when using public transportation? I did not know that.” Or “No, the school walls don’t really make me feel safe, they make me feel confined.” That was an eye-opening conversation with students! Narrowing it down, I’m a Coloradoan through and through. Colorado isn’t big on women’s work and men’s work. Historically we didn’t have that luxury; we did what needed to be done to survive. I don’t think I’ll ever be keen on daily tasks done solely based on gender; a lesson learned by being around those from other neck of the woods.

2. The biggest change will occur in you, not in those you interact with. Yes, yes, you will hopefully be a part of bringing some kind of change whether educational, economical, world view, restoration, greater understanding, or more hope. But the bottom line is that you, your marriage, and your children will be changed too.

3. There will be unintended consequences of your presence – both good and bad. We often focus on the good and discount the bad as being not that bad. The Sparrow by Maria Doria Russell fleshes this idea out and I highly recommend reading it. Twenty years ago I’d hear Chinese friends say, “We will let in the good parts of western culture, not the corrupting parts.” Turns out that the corrupting parts weren’t just in western culture, but in human hearts. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be involved with people different from us, mercy no! But it does mean that no matter how much you think through, prayer over and plan through actions and decisions, there will still be unintended outcomes.

4. There will be a cost. Count it as much as you can. You will not be the same after you have worked cross-culturally (see #2) and overall that is good! But depending on the cross-cultural work you do, it might cost you financially, relationships may change, your values may change, your understanding of history, or the way you see God may expand. You may miss out on friend’s weddings, funerals, grand children’s birthday, the latest fashions, and promotions. I don’t know what the cost will be for you, but I do know, there will be a cost. For me, one of the costs is that I now have a sense of home on opposite side of the globe. I am always home and never fully home.

5. It is worth it. The changes in me, the unintended consequences, the cost, the risk, the heart ache, worth it.

What would you add to the list?

Leave A Comment

  1. Kristi Magi June 23, 2012 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    It seems to me that if we are willing to be transparent about the “changes in us , the unintended consequences, the cost, the risk, the heart ache”, you may be able to spark a change or a desire to change in others in your home culture. Our experiences are meant for God’s glory, and His glory is too big to be kept to ourselves.

    My brief attempt at living cross culturally and the change that is still occurring is worth it.

    • Amy June 23, 2012 at 9:43 pm - Reply

      “Still occurring” — oh yes!

  2. Kim June 23, 2012 at 9:03 pm - Reply

    Really good post Amy. I think I was more changed by my living overseas than any change I brought to others. It’s in the little things that I notice influences of other cultures and people on myself. I’m really grateful to have gone through the good and bad of it all as I feel like God has made me richer in so many non tangible ways.

    • Amy June 23, 2012 at 9:43 pm - Reply

      Richer in non-tangible ways. That will preach!

  3. David @ Red Letter Believers June 23, 2012 at 10:23 pm - Reply

    I love what you say about the biggest change. Yes, we go to change others, but really, the biggest change happens to our hearts

  4. Amy L. Sullivan (@AmyLSullivan1) June 25, 2012 at 11:39 am - Reply

    So, I just looked at your must-reads, and sadly, I’ve only read one of the books! #1…I guess I need to get busy. I like how you always let us peek into your world, Amy.

    • Amy June 25, 2012 at 8:59 pm - Reply

      Thanks Amy … and your recent post on “The book thief” — guess what I’ve been meaning to read for a year?! :)

  5. […] own experience in multiple sub cultures) and she writes well about this. Here is a post on “5 lessons I’ve learned living cross-culturally” which was excellent. I’ll scrape her list as a teaser but click through to read […]

  6. LissaMH August 6, 2012 at 11:36 am - Reply

    A lot of really good stuff here. As someone who lived in China for a time, I can say that the unintended consequences certainly happened as well as the costs. “I am always home and never fully home.” YES. One of the biggest challenges about the process of living abroad, I think, is the transition periods, both getting there and coming back, and at times I wonder why I put myself through it if it is so emotionally draining. Good encouragement. It is worth it. All of it.

    • Avatar photo
      Amy August 6, 2012 at 11:38 am - Reply

      Thanks LissaMH! Stop back again :)

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