Culture Shock

Culture shock is a funny thing.

For me it looks less like the resentment of American commercialism and the slight panic that occasionally sets in when driving on the right side of the road.

For me, it’s more that I struggle to do my laundry. (Don’t worry – I HAVE done it by now, tearfully so I might add.) I can’t throw away the now empty toothpaste bottle I bought at the mall in Pietermaritzburg. I’m having trouble deciding if I want to talk about South Africa and at the same time I don’t know how to talk about anything else.

And don’t get me started on maps.

Over the last few years “wanderlust” has become quite the fad. Dorm rooms are decorated with maps, hallways are lined with travel inspired quotes, and every Pinterest account has at least one travel board. I myself set a map as my Facebook cover photo several years ago.

Now, every time I look at a map tears well up just behind my eyes. The distance between the western coast of America and the southern tip of Africa is quite disheartening. Who knows when these two feet will make contact with that soil once again?

On that relatively tiny patch of land, in that far off country, big things were done in this little girl’s heart.

The map might just be symbols of geographical features and the names of towns, but to me they are symbols of growth and rebirth. They represent a place that gripped my soul, rocked my world, and transformed my perspective.

Somewhere nestled in that tiny dot of ink labeled “Cape Town” reside people whose stories met mine in ways that I will never forget. On the opposite side of the country, these two feet pounded dirt in frustrated runs and these hands raked at rocks in service and this body stretched out in fields of weary resignation on a dot called “Pietermaritzburg.”

And now here I sit in a dot called “Scottsdale,” wrestling with the demons that rear their head when I am no longer busy and distracted.

I am convicted about the ways I waste my time when I have countless lazy days to spend. My patience is tested as I look ahead at the 2 months standing between me and the many exciting things the Fall holds. Routine stokes my apathy and the ordinary is missing that extra(ordinary) spark that life in another country often kindles.

But these struggles nestled into the mundane melt away as I am constantly reminded of the different heart that beats within my chest.

People often ask me what part of South Africa was the most impactful, or what experience changed me the most. Sometimes I’ll be able to rattle off an answer that makes a decent amount of sense, but more often than not I end up staring quizzically at the ceiling or blankly at the person in front of me as I try to verbalize something that my heart hasn’t yet communicated with my brain.

Something is different. Something is very, very different about the way that I see the world.

Sitting alone in a crowded restaurant isn’t quite as scary for me anymore. Living on a tight budget doesn’t intimidate me. I feel less anxious and more certain – of who I am, who God is, and what the future holds. I still have no idea what I am doing, but sticking my foot forward into the unknown will most assuredly put me right where God wants me.

What part of South Africa fashioned these attitudes (and many others) into my heart? I’m not really sure, and I don’t think I’ll ever really know. But what I do know is that whenever I look at a map, my eyes will automatically be drawn to the country that became my home for four months. The country where belly laughs and frustrated rants and tearful surrenders softened my heart.

South Africa – the place that called me into courage and settled me into peace – will always be lovingly and passionately written on my heart.

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  1. Oh, Jacova, your words are so very beautiful. This post seemed to capture your heart. Although I haven’t spent such an extended amount of time in Argentina, I know exactly how you feel. That country is on my heart every minute of every day, and I’m so thankful for all that God did there. Thank you so very much for sharing. This blessed me.


    • Thank you for your kind words, Claire! We leave bits and pieces of our hearts all over the world as we travel. How can we not when we see God’s goodness in other diverse cultures and encounter His grace in other incredible people? I’m glad that you can relate; I hope that we both can return to Argentina some day as well!


  2. Hillary Mellem June 9, 2014 — 3:28 am

    You are Incredible! Missing you and praying our paths will cross again soon (:


    • Hillary! I truly hope that we will get to be in each other’s presence again someday :) I love watching your adventures and seeing what the Lord is doing in your life as He takes you all over the world! May He continue to bless you as you travel and discover and grow.


  3. Reblogged this on Star Thrower and commented:
    Reverse culture shock is something our program at St. Cloud State University talked about with us since we signed up for our semester in South Africa. I’m re-blogging this post because I think the author grapples with this difficult to express topic. I’m not sure how I’m going to handle the trip home. Last year when I landed at the Minneapolis airport I cried. But as the tears flowed I had hope of returning for this semester. Last year when I was here I didn’t have the thought of I won’t be back because I fully expected to be back in South Africa for my internship. Now, I have a vague wish and hope to return but I have no plan to make it happen. So, in 12 days when our plane takes off from the OR Tambo International Airport I’m going to allow myself the moment to let the tears flow (much like they are doing now just thinking about it).


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