The Culture Shock of Preaching
In the late 1970s my husband Al and I spent a one-year seminary internship in South Korea, serving as volunteer missionaries of our denomination. Our assignment was to teach English conversation and theology in English at a theological seminary in Seoul.
During our year in Korea, we underwent considerable culture shock. The language was different; the food was different; the customs were different; the humor was different; the arts were different; and the church—its theology, ethos, and ritual life—was different from that to which we had become accustomed as white North American Protestants.
Fortunately, however, our denomination had done a good job of preparing us for the culture shock we would inevitably encounter. During the summer before our departure for Seoul, we gathered with other new missionaries at a denominational retreat center and heard lectures and presentations that acquainted us with the challenges of living in a foreign culture. Several Korean nationals and missionaries met with us, giving us an initial introduction to the history, geography, politics, and the philosophical and religious climate of the land to which we were headed. We read books about Korea, learned a bit of the language, and received instruction regarding the teaching of English as a second language. Theologians explored with us issues related to cross-cultural missions and indigenous theologies.
While no amount of prior training can ever totally ameliorate the shock that comes from immersion in a foreign culture, we found that our transition into Korean life was greatly eased by the careful preparation our denomination had given us. Perhaps most importantly, we approached matters of “difference” with greater empathy (and less frustration) because we had already been given a rudimentary understanding of some of the cultural underpinnings sustaining those differences.