Shadrach Nyeko, BJU Seminary Student
Before going to the States for the first time in 2013, I had a lot of expectations that may not have been very accurate. For example, the picture I had in mind concerning the entire United States was that of New York City—skyscrapers everywhere and busy streets full of people! But when I got off the plane in Memphis, Tennessee, I knew that I was wrong. For me, and probably for most new international students, coming to the States was extremely exciting. But that excitement is not without some measure of anxiety and fear of the unknown. So, what should you expect as an incoming international student? And how can you engage the American culture in such a way as to impact and be impacted for the glory of Christ?
Expect some cultural differences.
As you interact and observe American life and culture, expect that some things are going to be different from your own culture; and that is okay. The food is going to taste a little different. I had to get used to eating cheese in almost every food. Expect to be a little bit overwhelmed by the sheer volume of options at any given restaurant. Let a friend help you. The American idea of personal space might be surprising. As a general rule, Americans expect a lot more personal space and label more stuff as personal. So, the best thing to do is to always ask before using an item that does not belong to you. Time management might be stricter. No need to get discouraged by these differences. Embrace what is required of you.
Interact with people.
Don’t isolate yourself. It is very easy to take the easy way out and stand aloof, uninvolved, and unconcerned. But the benefits to that approach are few as compared to engaging and interacting with people—all kinds of people. Perhaps you have found a friend with whom you share a common culture. The tendency is to hang out with only that friend to the exclusion of anybody else. Isolating yourself, whether individually or in a closed group of your comfort, will prove to be detrimental in the long run, and it will not give you the opportunity to maximumly impact the people God has put around you, or to grow to your full potential in all aspects of life.
Learn by observation.
When you interact with people around you—whether its in class, in the dorms, during co-curricular activities like sports and music, in restaurants, or in church—, you get the opportunity to observe what the norms are. As a result, you don’t feel out of place after a while. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Also, in most cases, you can google words, phrases, or idiomatic sayings that you don’t understand. Sometimes people speak with movie references, so if it sounds appropriate, you can google those for the context too. Be careful, however, not to copy everything you see or hear. Use your common sense and Biblical convictions to sort through the things you observe.
Focus on your academic task.
It is easy to become so busy with the numerous activities on and off campus and, consequently, devote less time to academics. This can be detrimental because as a student, your first priority is your studies. You are fully responsible for getting all your work done within the given deadlines. This means that you will have to pick and choose what you can and cannot do. I personally felt pressed for time playing for the collegiate soccer team, coupled with ministry class and church-related responsibilities. In hindsight, however, I feel like that experience prepared me well for my incredibly busy life right now (planting a church and trying to make progress on a PhD). You will have to plan well for your time, not neglecting time for rest and time for prayer.
Recognize your Christian responsibility.
Wherever you are, as long as you are a believer, you possess the privilege and responsibility to continue growing spiritually and to help others to do the same. You are still responsible for making disciples even when you have assignments pending. This means that you cannot afford to just find a comfortable pace and coast your way through. Survival is not the end game. Attempt to make an impact for Christ by living out an exemplary Christian testimony. Find a local church and commit yourself to doing any work of the ministry that is available. Reach out and be a blessing to someone. The rewards will not be insignificant.
In the end, all people are just people. There is no need to get caught up in the cultural differences. God’s grace is ever-present and sufficient to enable you to thrive even as an international student. Remember to enjoy your time in college—make friends, laugh, do fun things (that are acceptable). Consider your time at BJU to be a gift from God!
Matt Jones, Missionary to Thailand
All transitions are tricky. They represent the end of something old and familiar, and the beginning of something new and unknown. When facing transitions, you naturally experience a period of grief and mourning over the losses that now lie somewhere in your past. God has created us with an amazing and extensive spectrum of physical and emotional responses to the changes that take place in our lives. For instance, when you’re happy, you smile. When something is funny, you laugh. When you’re angry, you find something to throw at a cat. When you lose something or someone that you love, you grieve.
In that way, missionary kids are no different than other BJU students. When incoming freshmen arrive on campus, they naturally miss their beds, their mom’s cooking, their high school friends, and probably their dog. They probably even miss their annoying siblings, and even their dad sitting in his recliner snoring while watching football on Sunday afternoons. But I have some dramatic news for you, wait for it, here it comes: there are some MAJOR differences between MKs who come to BJU and other American kids who show up on campus for the first time.
Profound, huh? Think about this with me for a minute. What are some of the major differences between a typical BJU dorm student and a missionary kid who grew up in some remote corner of the world?
The MKs probably can’t go back home.
What else is different for MKs?
The MKs are learning two new cultures at once.
The first few weeks at BJU are fun to watch. In those initial days, students receive approximately 2 million details and pieces of information that they need to remember to be able to succeed. It’s essential to figure out “Can I get to Alumni 301 from the Fine Arts building in 4 minutes?” Or “Who am I going to go to lunch with today? Is there a bathroom somewhere in FMA? Why is the line at Chick-fil-A always so long, but Papa Johns’ is always empty? Do I really get demerits if I jump in the fountains? Why is that creepy guy in my freshman speech class trying to follow me on Instagram?” Figuring out the answers to these questions is a necessary ingredient in every student’s college experience. No matter where you grew up, you have to be concerned about more than just academics; you also have to learn Bob Jones University dorm student culture as well. That can be tricky!
It’s easy in the swarm of college life to forget that MKs aren’t just learning “BJU culture,” they’re also trying to learn “American culture” at the same time. What am I talking about?
So, what’s the point in writing all this? Well, MKs need to remember several important things about life in the States:
Students who grew up in the States but live among MKs on campus need to remember several important things as well:
“We know and are known by the telling of our stories.” -Michael Pollock
Missionary dad of four amazing MKs
Katie Hickey, CGO Office Administrator
South America, 80-degree weather, Australians, pumpkin pie—these things meant Thanksgiving to me. Growing up on the mission field in Brazil, our Thanksgiving traditions were a little bit different from the average American household. We didn’t necessarily get together with family because they were far away. Fall decorations and changing leaves didn’t color the neighborhood because it was almost summer. Football games weren’t being watched unless they were what some may argue to be real “futebol” games. We didn’t really get together with our churches for praise services because Thanksgiving is not a Brazilian holiday.
My family was blessed to have met other missionary families in our city and surrounding area who were also far from home, family, and regular traditions. Desiring to still celebrate Thanksgiving and reflect on God’s goodness, we created our own traditions. We would get together late morning, usually at a camp belonging to one of the missionaries. One of the ladies organized a Thanksgiving program asking all the kids to contribute. We kids participated by playing instruments, singing specials, and reciting poems. We all sang hymns together. One of the men would bring a short devotional and close us in prayer. Then, came the food! As I remember it, the meal typically had traditional Thanksgiving dishes, including pumpkin pie (Back in the day, college missionary kids were given the thrilling task of stuffing cans of pumpkin, jars of peanut butter, and American baking goods like chocolate chips in their luggage when they came home on breaks. Surprisingly, pumpkin everything is not an international phenomenon.). After the meal, the women would talk while cleaning up, the men would discuss theology and current events, the college students would hang out together, and the kids would run all over the campground, playing soccer or other games or riding the little cable swing zip-line. We’d end up staying all day and having our evening meal from the leftovers before going home.
These missionary families and our family were all very different. We had different backgrounds and different life stories. One of the families wasn’t even American. They were Australian missionaries to Brazil, yet they loved celebrating Thanksgiving with us. We were also all from different denominations. Our churches worshipped differently. However, we all worshipped the same God, and we all believed that Christ died to save us from our sins. We were all brothers and sisters in Christ. Our God was the common denominator. Our God was the reason we could be thankful. Our God was the only constant.
As I’ve grown up and left home, I’ve realized there always has been and always will be only this constant: God and His gracious salvation through Christ. I have since celebrated Thanksgiving in a more “traditional” fashion over the years with extended family, the dreary cold, and pumpkin pie from cans which anyone can actually buy from a Walmart just down the street. But I’ve also celebrated it completely apart from my family. I’ve celebrated it with friends from Chile, Mexico, Honduras, Peru, and Chicago, developing a greater appreciation for the caring brothers and sisters in Christ God has given me. I’ve celebrated it with my grandparents during college when they lived in town and opened their home to me. And I’ve celebrated it in an assisted living facility only days after Grandma had her stroke, as I and other family members were simply thankful that we could be together for the holiday. Nothing else is sure.
Last year, around this time, I boarded a plane with my family for what was probably my last ever Thanksgiving in Brazil. Excitement and expectations were high. It would be the first time in years my whole family – my parents, my siblings, their spouses, and kids – was going to be together. We would be having a Thanksgiving “just like the ones I used to know.” That’s just it, though. It wasn’t. My favorite Aussies weren’t there (They’re now serving in Portugal.). My parents weren’t living in the house I grew up in. Our family had doubled in size; it now included five very energetic kids under the age of ten. We didn’t have our traditional dinner at the camp but at one of the missionary families’ houses instead. Yes, we still ate pie; the kids, or grandkids now, still ran around; the men still discussed important topics; and the weather was hot like it should be. Even so, it was all different. Looking around the room, I realized so many changes had taken place in the lives of those around me. Only one thing was the same: we worshipped and expressed gratitude to the same God. He never changed.
End of the year holidays breed times of great reflection. Thanksgiving prompts us to count our blessings. No matter what season you find yourself in life right now—nestled in the comfortable consistency of family traditions or lost in a sea of change and new beginning—thank God for His presence and His gift of salvation.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah (Psalm 62:5-8 ESV)
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.