When you can 'see' the culture that you are in

Have you ever spent time immersed in another culture?  If so, were you surprised how much your perceptions had changed when you returned home?

When you are going to live in another country you mentally prepare yourself for the culture shock you are going to feel when you get there, but no one tells you about the culture shock you are going to experience when you get back.

I was at a conference this week and during some down time met Laura--who had spent ten years as a missionary in Indonesia.

Laura told me about the concept of people becoming "triangles."  The idea is that in the country you grow up in, you are a circle.  But you move to a country where everyone is a square.  And somehow in leaving your culture and living in another, you become neither circle nor square.  You are a triangle.

And people who haven't experienced it have a hard time understanding.


Because the culture you grow up in feels like truth. 

When we study culture in school, it embodies food, music, dress, lifestyle, but it also embodies core ideas about the way the world works.  When we live outside of our culture, we start to discover which ideas we have about life that are cultural.  While this almost always happens when a person lives outside of their home country, I think it can also happen by being immersed in a group that is quite different from the culture we grew up in.  (Consider if you grew up in NYC and then moved to Utah.) Most of my friends who have inter-cultural marriages understand this.  They become a triangle because they spend time immersed in the culture of their spouse. (I've also observed that people can live in another country and not become triangle at all if they don't open themselves enough for the change to take place.)

I love the phrase: "you can't see the label if you are inside the jar." Triangles suddenly see the label. But it can be confusing to try to talk with someone about the label when they don't even know there is one.

One thing is for sure. I have yet to meet a triangle who doesn't have a deep love for both the culture they grew up in and the one they were immersed in (or married into).

So for my triangle friends. This one is for you. Play on.

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© Random Cathy
Maira Gall