Becoming Russian

In my last post I shared about my vivid daydream of life in Russia before my initial arrival. I have also been thinking over a phrase that was common to my thought back in those days. My husband and I often talked together and with others about our desire to eventually  “become Russian.” This phrase “becoming Russian” was birthed out of the desire to follow Paul’s example of becoming all things to all people for the sake of soul salvation. It came from a willingness to leave what is comfortable and adopt what is foreign because God had called us to it. It was based in some good desires, but I wouldn’t say that I have the same vision today for what it looks like to live as a successful missionary.

In my hometown of Seattle at Pike Place Market

Upon arrival, I quickly learned that a person from one culture being dropped into another doesn’t spontaneously undergo some sort of culture osmosis with the concentration of cultures eventually flowing in or out to make a of perfect cultural balance. I must have somewhat expected the American-ness to just flow right out of me when it was not culturally valued or fitting, and the Russian-ness to just flow right in where needed. I didn’t fully anticipate going through painful transplant surgery when I needed to learn how to be more Russian. Having to adjust to the Russian concept of time and commitment, for example, felt like just such a transplant. I am still not sure that the transplant has taken because I continue to fight off feelings of anger and frustration when I am left waiting alone at a cafe or when someone calls at the last minute to tell me that they aren’t coming over when I’ve worked hard to clean the house and prepare a dessert for tea.

And besides the little petty things like our concept of time, or sense of fashion (though I have to admit that Russian fashion is growing on me), there are more significant values at my very core that I simply cannot will myself to forsake. I believe now that some of these things are essential to who God has created me to be over the course of my upbringing and are worth preserving.

After a time of struggling through my desire to fit in but feeling wrong about tossing aside my own culture, and with the help of some good discussion with friends who never even considered the idea of wanting to “become Russian” (and not at all because they don’t love Russia), I came to understand more that I don’t have to trade one culture for the other in order to love Russia and Russians, or even to gain a good cultural understanding.

What a simple and freeing thought that was, as I often felt quite out of place and just plain different, especially in that first year or so! In my circle of missionary friends, we often toss around the phrase “not wrong, just different” in order to keep ourselves from criticizing the culture in which we live (a very important view to have in a lot of circumstance, in my opinion), but I see how this phrase absolutely relates to me as an American living in another culture as well. Just because I am not made up of the same cultural core material, my difference is not necessarily wrong!

With this freedom, I feel more able to seek simply to love Russia, to learn about Russian culture, to seek to understand the Russian mindset and be able to filter things through a new understanding, but I can let myself off of the hook a bit and enjoy and celebrate my American-ness, even in the moments where I feel a bit more different than I’d like.

Much to my own surprise, as I’ve allowed myself to enjoy the process of learning about my host culture rather than pressuring myself “become Russian,”  God has allowed cultural adaptation to start feeling a lot more like natural osmosis and much less like transplant surgery. Some parts of my American culture that don’t serve me well here  can gradually be put aside, even if just for a time,  and after awhile, aspects of Russian culture have become more normal and often preferable for life here.  I don’t expect to become 100% Russian, but my love for and understanding of Russia and Russians is ever growing, and seeing this continue is my new goal and desire.

My common attire during the cold Russian winters

How have you viewed your own cultural difference in light of your host culture? Have you felt a desire to become more like your host culture? Has this been a difficult process? Have you resisted adopting aspects of your host culture or struggled to keep a “not wrong, just different” attitude?  How about experiences with becoming overly critical of your own home culture after learning to love your new one?

(Post by: Ashley)


7 Responses to “Becoming Russian”

  1. 1 Chrysti H January 8, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    I like the idea of adapting by osmosis… I feel like that’s what happened to me when I moved to England with my hubby. Although the cultural differences between the US and England are shockingly subtle…

    Here’s a question… how do you handle going back to the US after adapting to living in your host culture? I have found it to be challenging for the first couple weeks or so because people tend to think I’m being different on purpose!

  2. 2 Carie Means January 9, 2012 at 6:21 am

    Chrysti, I understand how you feel. Recently I was in the U.S. for short medical course and even simple things like how to greet people were sometimes awkward. In Mexico we kiss on the cheek and if you forget and do that in the States people think you have lost your mind. 😛

  3. 3 jolenesloan January 9, 2012 at 7:53 am

    Another well thought out article, Ashley! You have a way of pinpointing exactly what the rest of us are thinking. 🙂 Thank you!

  4. 4 Traci January 10, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Hi there! I’m new to your blog and I’ve really been appreciating what you have to share so, thank you!
    We’ve been in Portugal for 5 years and there are still things that I resist and really don’t like about the culture. It’s hard to really look at myself and see what it is that I DO need to change or adapt in myself to be able to make it here for the long haul. Also, some of my issues come from my unwillingness to change or admit that things can be different than how I want or expect… It’s a proess and I’m working on it!!! It’s good to look back and see how far I’ve come! Thanks for helping me think through this a little more.

  5. 5 Karen January 10, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    Thank you for this article! We are on furlough from Ukraine, very similar to what you experience in Russia. There are some things I love about their culture, but other things that I resist. For instance, the way they line up (or don’t line up!) at stores, kiosks, offices, etc. Even though I don’t like it that way, I have to realize that to them it is normal!

  6. 6 Phyllis January 10, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    I wonder what would happen if we walked up to a line and asked “who’s last?” in America? 🙂

    I honestly think that we’ve become pretty close to Russian, and I don’t know how to cope in America. I usually just feel lost and miserable. 😦

  7. 7 jen February 5, 2012 at 7:49 am

    I like this post and getting a glimpse into how this works itself out in the stories, likes, and adjustments you make traveling between America and Russia.

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