Summer Camp–pondering culture

We are finishing up the first full day of Summer Camp here in Sweden. It is strange to type that as it seems so much longer than that. We now are sharing the campus with a total of 400 people. Ethnically, the attendees are Chinese, Nordics married to Chinese and the kids of the adults. It felt like the camp site became a small piece of China. I wrote something to this effect last year here.

As an anthropology major (quite a few years ago now) I find it interesting to ponder cultural differences. I get to see it play out right in front of me here in Summer Camp. I should mention that the Americans at camp are the only ones who don’t speak two or more languages. The kids and I are quite the oddballs here. We are Chinese but do not speak it, neither do we speak any of the Nordic languages. The children’s camp had to get translators for my kids since all the other children speak their Chinese dialect (Cantonese or Mandarin) and their Nordic language. They have to accommodate us.

Today there were a couple incidents that I’ve been pondering. During free time, my kids were bored found some empty soda bottles. Like most boys, they discovered they are great as weapons because when you get bopped on the head it doesn’t hurt. Of course, they didn’t think the loud noises the bottles a problem. Nor did they think the running around and shouting indoors would be an issue. A woman in her 50s saw them and started talking rather firmly to them. I was out of the room during all of this. When I returned, both the woman and my boys had odd looks on their faces. My oldest tried to tell her they didn’t understand. The woman tried Mandarin, Cantonese and a couple Nordic languages. I picked up a few phrases but since I don’t speak any of those languages, all I could do is repeat the word “English.” Sadly, that was the very language the woman couldn’t speak!

Later that afternoon, the boys and I were playing with the board games provided by the children’s camp. During free time, the games are made available and lots of kids hang out there. We must stand out to the other children since I was the only adult playing games and we speak English. Since we are so odd, children would come by to watch us and a few tried to talk to us. We didn’t mean to not respond, we just couldn’t say anything to them they would understand. One boy seemed to want to play Uno with us but we were in the middle of games so he proceeded to play Uno with himself at our table.

As an adult, I have enough experience to understand the cultural differences and language barriers. What I wonder is how my kids think about these incidents–if they are aware of them at all. I have heard that missionaries feel stress as they acclimate to another culture. Our time here is short enough that we do feel challenges of cross-cultural changes. What we don’t feel is the strain of cultural stresses. Missionaries on long term assignments probably have more training and preparation regarding cultural issues. I can’t help but think that they would still appreciate prayer.

Side note: Summer Camp is going well so far. We are tired but God is sustaining us. It is a lighter week for me as I don’t have to teach the kids. Officially, I’m a camp attendee but unofficially I’m praying that God would guide my conversations with those around me. I really hope they know English.

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