It’s a little surprising, but in all my trips to Peru, Honduras, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, I've never really experienced culture shock. Yet somehow, during my first week in New Jersey, I showcased almost every single one of Google’s top culture shock symptoms: homesickness, feelings of helplessness, disorientation, sadness, increased irritability, and excessive critical reactions to surroundings. Looking back, I can’t even explain why. There are a lot of things about New Jersey that are different (traffic, more people, more buildings, traffic, complicated roads, traffic…), but there are also lots of things that are just like West Virginia (trees, rolling hills closely resembling what us West Virginians like to call "mountains", bunnies, people who speak English, etc.). For some reason, though, being in New Jersey really stressed me out at first. Staying with Chris’ family, I was a bit less independent than at school, and I was very anxious about the fact that my initial plan for housing had fallen through and I might have to stay in Ridgewood and commute 40 minutes every day (plus traffic) for our internship. Plus, I was unaccustomed to life in the Hu household, where they eat Chinese food, use the dishwasher as a drying rack, and walk around the house barefoot (which always results in a scolding at my house). Of course, none of these are bad things, but when thrown in with feelings of homesickness, helplessness, disorientation, sadness, increased irritability, and excessive criticism, they felt overwhelming and kept me from seeing all the really amazing things about staying at Chris' house, such as the overflowing generosity and hospitality that I was receiving from both of his parents whom I'd only met a handful of times. Most of all, though, I was flustered by the fact that our internship turned out to be very flexible and could not be carefully penciled into my color-coordinated planner as I always prefer things to be. Unfortunately, it took me a while to get my eyes off myself and thank the Lord for bringing me to a place where I could learn and grow in so many ways.
On my first night in New Jersey, one of Chris’ friends treated us to dinner. I was surprised to see someone I’d never met give so generously and share so openly about his life and faith. Through this occasion and many others, I've been encouraged by how easy it can be to connect with brothers and sisters in Christ just because we are all seeking the same thing. That evening was especially interesting because a random stranger came up to us in Starbucks after hearing us pray and performed a magic trick sermon using a quarter. His little show explained how the devil can distract us and steal away what God offers, a great reminder that God had something special in store for the summer that I would likely miss if I continued freaking out about the little details.
The following day, I visited the church where Chris grew up. It’s a Chinese church, so for the first time ever (at least in the US), I found myself in the clear racial minority. There was only one other white guy in the church, and because he stood out like a sore thumb, I knew I must also be as easy to spot as a gringa in Huancayo, Peru. Since I was so clearly a visitor, the man doing announcements had me stand up to be welcomed by the church. Ironically, he misheard my name and introduced me to the church as Chris’ girlfriend, “Jersey.” But that was practically drowned out by the crowd's "Awww" as the two of us sat down. I'm pretty sure my cheeks matched my bright pink dress for a second there.
On Monday, Chris and I finally got to go to the International House of Prayer: Eastern Gate (which I will often refer to as “EG”) where we would be interning for the next 2 months. Still suffering from some culture shock symptoms, I was uncharacteristically irritated about the fact that the person in charge of our internship was not there on our first day. This irritation rapidly transitioned to panic as we were informed that our time at EG would kick off with an on-the-spot audition. Shaking like a leaf, I played my flute and sang a few lines of “Set a Fire” so that Chris and I could lead the 2pm set that very day. It was pretty scary, but as soon as that was over and we entered the Prayer Room, I realized that EG is no so different from our Prayer Room at school. Yes, it’s open almost 24-7 and is a lot bigger than our space at W&L. And yes, the Prayer Room has a full sound system and a stage. But just like at school, we simply worshiped. There was no big audience or crowd of people joining us in prayer. It was just me, Chris, Jesus, and one or two others. And for those 2 hours, my culture shock symptoms subsided. Because in the presence of God, there’s just no place for such things.