In my summer bucket list this year, I mentioned I was going on a mission trip. The trip was last week and I am definitely trying to make myself process things, so here’s a post about it.
In the months leading up to Mexico, we had a lot of meetings. Informational meetings, brainstorming meetings, bake-sale meetings, training meetings, long meetings. Scattered throughout was guided journaling, and at one point, culture shock and its potential presence on the trip was brought up. My only thought then was nah, that won’t happen.
I think it had to do with the sharp consonants and the word choice, but something about the phrase ‘culture shock’ made the experience sound like it would break the Richter scale. It sounded like your mind went through the washing machine, the blender, and then a drop rollercoaster for good measure. It sounded so dramatic. I had an aversion to the dramatic.
Going into Mexico, the only true shock I received was while crossing the border. I had no idea what to except, but somehow it was still not what I expected at all. As the van started rolling closer towards the border, we started looking out the window, waiting for a word to become concrete. This was the source of all the rage, the fights, the news. This was the border that needed no clarification. This was the border that had been caught in the middle of a war, and we were about to cross it.
For a place that seemed more foreign than Mexico itself, it felt much too regular. As we drew near, we went through a row of ubiquitous toll booths. Everything was the same from the small compartments to the sliding glass window to the bar that raised and lowered. Everything except that we paid no toll. We passed through without even rolling down the window. Was it that easy?
The answer came from the front of the car: no. We had yet to enter Mexico. We still needed to travel across another stretch of indistinguishable road. Whether that space was American, Mexican, or no man’s land, I had no idea. It could have been anywhere.
Then came an airport-ish maze. As per instruction, we settled down, sitting with our faces forward and our mouths hushed. We had been told to behave and to be normal, as if nine kids sitting quietly and properly in a van is normal. As if it is normal to see uniformed guards with guns strapped to their waist in sizes only seen in movies and video games.
They stood around, but there was no inspection. They did not even ask for our passports. We passed through in a couple of minutes and exited onto an empty street. At the intersection there was a red octagon sign with white letters: ALTO. We had crossed.
While in Mexico, there were rules, yes, and yes, they were different from the rules at home. Don’t drink the Mexican water. Don’t use it to brush your teeth either. Don’t flush anything down the toilets except what comes out of you. Don’t pet the dogs. But did that compound into culture shock? Nope.
Coming home was a different story, but to me that made sense. Of course one would be more easily surprised by the old feeling new than by the new feeling new.
On the way back, we stopped at a H-E-B, which is a grocery store chain in South Texas whose mascot is the coolest paper bag I have ever met. In the store, I saw an employee, and without even processing, I said hola. It was not until a step later that I realized I was not in Mexico anymore and that hola was not the anticipated greeting.
When I went to the H-E-B restroom, my mind reminded itself to throw the toilet paper into the trashcan only for it to realize that I could now flush it without fear of clogging.
As my friend and I walked back from the restrooms to the rest of our friends, I told him how I had reflexively thought to throw my toilet paper away. After I told him, we passed by a rack of magazines, one of which had a dog on the cover. He said that he had had the reflexive thought of don’t pet the dog. That, in my opinion, was a much funnier culture tremor than mine.
When we went to the Austin shopping outlet at the end of the trip as something fun, I kept being confused by the girls I saw dressed in cute clothes. I was like, what is going on? Why were people dressing so nicely to go shopping? Then I realized with a mental headpalm, this is just how people normally dress. After five days of sweat and t-shirts, I had forgotten.
In my mind, all of this still doesn’t add up to culture shock though. But culture tremors? Definitely.
Have you ever been on a mission trip?
Have you ever crossed the border?
What do you think about culture shock?