But what do I do with things I don’t admire about a culture? How do I relate to a student who strongly holds beliefs which concern me? For example, how do I help a Chinese student learn to drive in the U.S. when they have no concept of the rule of law? A stop sign or red light is only a suggestion unless an officer is there to enforce it. How do I feel about a Middle Eastern student who attempts to bribe people here to give him whatever he wants at whatever price he wants to pay? How do I feel about institutional bigotry in India shown toward non-Hindus or those of a low caste?
How do I understand those things I don’t like, particularly in light of my own cultural values? The easy answer is that sin is sin. Romans 7:5 says, “When we were controlled by our old nature, sinful desires were at work within us, and the law aroused these evil desires that produced sinful deeds, resulting in death.” (NLT) That which is institutionalized within a culture which tends toward evil by biblical standards is a result of trying to make life work apart from God’s holy power and wisdom.
The more difficult answer is that everyone tries their best to work within their worldview. Their worldview may place higher value on taking care of family members than on stealing from others to provide for family. Their worldview may assume corruption of anyone in authority and try to make the best of systematizing bribes in order to get things done. Their worldview may accept bigotry, corruption, and dealing harshly with enemies as normal. In all these situations an individual was raised with, these expectations are normal for life. Their personal worldview is more “caught” than taught, and they have learned it since childhood by just looking around. It is not until one is immersed into a new culture different from one’s own that one realizes these particular issues.
How do we help students adjust to these changes in worldview? Unconditional acceptance of the person and discussion of the perspectives and issues. When one gets past the expression forms of cultural values (actions) and down to deep beliefs that inform those values, we often find great commonality of those deep beliefs. We are more similar than we initially thought.
Principles cited in this blog: Cultural differences are ways people apart from God have tried to make life work for themselves. Some are good, and some are bad from a biblical standard. Discussion at a heart level is a way to seek to understand one another’s values and deep beliefs.
Application for ISI ministry: As we build relationships with students, we will run across things they do and believe that we don’t understand. Unconditional acceptance of the person and transparency in discussion of those things can lead to greater understanding on both sides.
Next blog topic: How to pray for international students in general
Doug Shaw with Derrah Jackson