Postcards from China Blog #10: Bursting Cultural Bubbles – Asbury University
Shapemaximize playTriangle
Watch The College Tour
Contact Us

Postcards from China Blog #10: Bursting Cultural Bubbles

November 2, 2018

Tyler Thompson ’19 reconciles the cultural differences between Xi’an, China and his hometown of Wilmore, Ky. Learn more about Asbury’s China Study Abroad program

If you’ve ever lived in small-town America for any length of time, you’re probably familiar with the term “bubble” – the thin veil between your culture and the “real world,” difficult to see at times and easy to break. Though just 10 miles from the second-largest city in Kentucky, there were certainly many times when I was growing up in the tiny town of Wilmore, Ky., it seemed like the definition of “living in a bubble” to me.

China, on the other hand, is nothing like small-town America.  Xi’an, the setting for the first half of our adventure abroad, is a city of 12-million souls, about 1.5 times the size of New York City and 2,000 times the size of Wilmore. The vast majority of people don’t speak much more English than “hello,” the food is completely different and the smells are simply indescribable.

My family has worked in China in the past, so I figured I was prepared for what awaited me when I stepped onto Chinese soil. Boy, was I wrong; my cultural bubble was thoroughly popped within a couple of days after arrival. Sprinkle in a bout of sickness, some doses of loneliness and you have the recipe for culture shock. Up until that point, I had always downplayed what culture shock is really like – I thought culture shock was what happens when we’re too stuck-up and self-centered to appreciate other cultures. What I experienced was completely different.

After our first couple days in Xi’an, when I was experiencing loneliness and fear, I suddenly realized I was not alone. God burst in like a ray of light and showed me what it meant to be a stranger in a foreign land, an immigrant from a heavenly kingdom.

Just like that, it was ok for China to be different. The people I passed every day stopped being “the Chinese people” and started being “people.” The “oddities” of Chinese culture became “differences,” like notes that seem jarring until you listen to the melody. Better still, God has used these differences to show me what in my own life is influenced by my Christian faith and what is influenced by the culture around me.

It’s no mistake that God allowed us have different cultures. He made us to learn from one another, to cover others’ weaknesses and rely on others’ strengths. God has taught me much that I couldn’t have learned in Wilmore, and He’s just getting started.