Friday, December 20, 2013

10 Observations First Week Back in USA

One week ago my family arrived back in the USA after living and serving in S. Asia for two years. I know that overtime my first culture will become the norm again, but for now I am still able to view things with a slightly different perspective as a third culture adult. This week has been a great time of catching up with family, seeing a few friends, and trying to get over jet lag.

During the course of this week there have been a few initial observations that come to mind that I would like to share in no particular order.

1. Americans are entirely too busy and work too much. The culture where we had been living started the day around 10 am and somehow those who had jobs were always able to meet you at random times of the day for coffee or rather chai. I've seen a few friends in the area where I grew up this week, but for the most part everybody is busy working.

2. Americans spend way too much time in the car. This could be due to locality of where I grew up in NC, but I miss being able to walk to nearby places. I calculated this week that in the last twenty-five years my dad has spent approximately one full year commuting back and forth to work.

3. Everything is so nice and clean. Let's face it, I have been living in a culture that has very different hygiene standards and many people are uneducated as to what is proper hygiene. This caused me to lower my own standards and expectations to now I will go eat at about any hole in the wall restaurant, even if there are a few roaches on the counter.

4. Everything is big in America. McDonald's is not the only place that does the super size me, but everything is super sized! Food, drinks, people, stores, traffic lanes, etc. All of it is big!

5. Americans also worship 330 million gods like the Hindus. This is not a new observation so much, but seeing all the materialism at Christmas time and how much stuff Americans have to spend their money on can quickly reveal who and what they are worshipping. It may be packaged in a nicer looking temple, but all people worship something and I do not care if that is political correct by saying so.

6. There are too many traffic laws. Wow, did I just say that? Driving was one of the most stressful things for me overseas, but I have realized that there are too many laws in US driving and some things that S. Asians do actually make some sense to me now. I have only used my horn once, but I did keep thinking I ended up on the wrong side of the road somehow.

7. Political correctness is more rampant now than it was in 2011. I knew this was the case because I kept up with the major news outlets from overseas, but just this week I have already seen how absorbed people have become with things like the Duck Dynasty controversy. American culture is headed in a direction that it is going to become increasingly more difficult for the so called "nominal" Christians to be in, which is not entirely a bad thing.

8. The US culture in many ways is a harder place to minister and be a missionary. I was living and serving in the least reached area of the world, but it was such an easy place to share the gospel and talk about spiritual aspects of life. In the US, everyone wants to keep faith private or if you live in the South many people that are not truly disciples think that they are because it has become part of the culture.

9. You can find anything and everything in America. I'm returning from a much simpler life where you could find a limited amount of foods and things. You get to a place where you realize that you truly have everything you need so it bothers you less and less. Now, there is so much stuff that I forgot even existed. I even left boxes of stuff in my parents garage and it felt like an early Christmas this week looking through the stuff.

10. Most people will not be able to relate or understand the life I have lived. This is nobody's fault, but just the reality of not many people living in the same country where I lived. In many conversations this week I can tell that people are unsure of what to talk to me about or what to even ask, so they usually ask nothing instead. This has been a disappointment because not many people have asked at all about our life or work there, but instead only focused on us being back here.


  1. Great observations, and all quite true!

    Let me emphasize #5. People don't think materialism (cultural ideologies, sinful proclivities, and many other categories of things) equates to Hinduism per se, but they will often defend these things and proclaim their benefits with greater vigor than they will the one true God who created all things and has given his life to pay for our sin of worshiping all these other things.

    And regarding #10: I sympathize. I've learned that it's the responsibility of the one with exceptional experiences to seek to relate back to those with limited experiences. Particularly for mission work, you know that of the people who ask about your exceptional activities: some want the 5-second answer, others want the 5-minute answer, and there are the precious few who want to sit down and talk about for a long time over coffee.

  2. Thank you for this. Ive been serving in Korea the last 2 years. I really relate to your last thought. Despite the ease of communication today, most of my American friends have completly lost contact with me, mostly because they no longer know what to say.

  3. Matt, we have experienced all these things in our lives serving in Argentina!! When we go back just for visits we feel and see the same things. You have expressed our sentiments EXACTLY!! It's always a "culture shock" to return.
    Thank you for your faithfulness.

  4. Dead on. I have only spent a few weeks at a time in various Latin American countries, but I talk almost daily with people from there and I agree wholeheartedly. I find it hard to readjust from my short term experiences and so I pray for you to find a way to have peace in knowing "what you know" after being there for that extended period. Keep sharing!

  5. Concerning #10...I've always had this deep desire to communicate my experiences, thoughts, feelings, etc. to others. As you know, I prob talk too much : ) Just today, coming back from a gathering in the slums, I told my wife that no one back home will fully understand. In that short trip (with 10 people packed into a tiny van) we saw Hindu eunuchs, piles of burning trash everywhere, sickly children, crippled, mentally insane sitting naked on rocks beside the road, roadside "fortune tellers" & dusty idols, temples, mosques...the list goes on!
    Although we've yet to return, we experience the same disinterest now. In fact, I just saw a post on TheCity about some work a family has been sent out to do in the nearby state of our church & it received 20 immediate responses, whereas when things are posted about work over here, it's like pulling teeth to get one response. I guess that's one of the contributing factors for all all of those "red dots" on the unreached map. Miss you guys already! -Your gypsy neighbor up the hill

  6. Must give a HUGE 2 thumbs up to Jim Pemberton's advice especially concerning #10 - I'll be praying that God will bring someone special into your lives willing to ask the meaningful questions and truly interested in your answers!

  7. Thank you everyone for your comments and to all of you who read and shared this post. I am surprised at all of the feedback that I have received in person and through social media this weekend. Maybe I should do a part two after being here for a month.

  8. this is excellent. EXCELLENT. you're getting a lot of great feedback from us overseas lot who have found that our experiences have finally been eloquently conveyed so americans can understand.

  9. Just coming across this post and great blog by the way. I can relate to your list as my wife is from Nepal and we try to visit every couple years. On return from my first trip there I compiled a very similar list (though didn't have a blog then and is on a notepad packed somewhere), and can completely relate, especially since you were in S. Asia. God bless you on your future endeavors!

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