Intercontinental travel is part of being a missionary kid. Sure, businessmen and rich people all travel abroad, but missionaries and missionary kids alike travel, it seems, as often as we breathe. When discussions about the military arise, I always joke, “I’ll join the army; I would get seasick with the navy and I’ve had enough planes for a lifetime, so that just leaves one option.” Jokes aside, this is true. I can’t even count the amount of times I have been on an airplane, let alone the thousands of hours driving to particular destinations.
Despite being a “veteran” within traveling, there are still several changes that affect me greatly when changing countries or even continents. Indeed, the latter proves to be far more difficult, as country changes usually stay within continents, reducing the cultural change therein. Driving from Uganda to Kenya will prove far easier then flying from Uganda to the United States. The differences between Uganda and Kenya, while existent, are minimal compared to the differences between Uganda and the USA. These changes are massive, and despite the experience I have in “continent hopping”, they still hit me like a punch in the gut. Some, such as jet lag, can be reduced with experience, but there are four others that seem particularly difficult to avoid.
1: Climate Changes
Ah, climate changes, the bane of my existence. Growing up in a country that averages around 80 degrees (an estimate), I find it extremely difficult to return to “the land of flying milk”, as my mentor and friend Jones Bakimi calls it. Going from an 82 degree day to a 12 degree (all in Fahrenheit, I’m American) is possibly one of the most shocking things for the body. I am told that, as humans, our blood thins in high temperatures, and thickens in lower ones. This must be the case, for when I go from summer to winter within a matter of days, it seems that there is no protection from the bitter wind. Tolerance to this could be built up over time, of course, but this would require time within the country, not time traveling. If you intend on flying from Africa to the United States, I recommend wearing at least three coats.
2: Geographical Changes
At first glance, these can be difficult to spot. However, upon taking a closer look, it is almost astounding how many differences can be found within two countries on opposite sides of the world. While the USA is populated with pine and oak trees, Uganda abounds with banana, mango, and jackfruit trees. Birds, animals, and insects are different, for species change by the mile, and even the color is different, as many visitors from the USA remark, “Oh, everything is so green.” Truly, God has created a magnificent and diverse place for His people to live.
3: Socioeconomic Changes
This ranks as the second-most difficult change to process. Socioeconomic changes include, but are not limited to, the minimum wage, average pay, exports, imports, and average GDP of a country. These are most easily seen when in grocery or department stores. When in an African grocery store, there may be a few different brands of shampoo to choose from. But, when in an American department store, it seems you can find shampoos for women of different color hair, different age, and different height. The choices can be, and often are, completely overwhelming, especially when going from the United States, to Uganda.
Interestingly, these extend even further then just choices in a grocery store. I have often said that the money translation between USD and Ugandan Shillings is incorrect, and this is quite true. The United States Dollar equals about 3,600 Ugandan Shillings. Now, before you get all surprised at the amount of Shillings that is, keep in mind that the very lowest money you can own in Uganda is 100 shillings, which will buy you basically nothing (and could be compared to the penny). However, the discrepancy between the dollar and shilling is found when we look at the minimum wage and cost of living between the two countries. I believe the minimum wage of a United States citizen is around $12 an hour. It would seem that this would indicate a Ugandan minimum wage of about 43,000 Ugandan Shillings. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The average Ugandan worker would be lucky to be paid 5,000 UGSH an hour, which amounts to $1.50. See the difference?
The cost of living changes even further. To buy a nice, quality meal in the United States, we might take (for example), buying dinner at Cracker Barrel. If I wanted a nice dinner, I might pay upwards of around $10, correct? Well, for Uganda, I could pay around 15,000, which is lower than $5. Food here is far, far cheaper when we convert from dollars to shillings.
“But what does this have to do with Socioeconomic changes, and how is it hard?” You might ask. Well, think about this. If I went to an American Starbucks and purchased a cup of coffee, I might pay around $11, right? Translated into Ugandan shillings, this amounts to about 40,000, or over eight hours of work. Yet, in the United States, $11 is less then an hour of work. Doing this translation in the United States often proves both annoying and depressing. A woman, returning from Uganda to the United States, once did this when buying an expensive cup of coffee from Starbucks. She paid $15, a pittance in the USA, but then made the mistake of translating this into Ugandan shillings and thinking how much food it could buy here. What a headache! Some returning MKs and missionaries refuse to buy coffee or other expensive food items, well aware of how much money that would be back home. In protesting the money exchange, they think they will make themselves feel better about the poverty they are met with in Africa or anywhere else. This is a mistake. Once you realize how incorrect the money change is, and understand the fact that boycotting coffee or anything else is not going to help the poverty in this world, you can drink a cup of coffee to God’s glory. Amen, eh?
4: Cultural Changes
You knew it was coming. No discussion on intercontinental travel would be complete without a paragraph (or three) on cultural changes. After all, they are by far the most difficult changes to accustom yourself to. Even after months spent in the United States, I often find myself blinking and thinking, “Wait, what did I just do?” Often, these changes can take years to become used to, for they are the defining traits of our countries, setting them apart in the way that God has ordained since the Tower of Babel.
A few examples of these changes can be found within the simple things of life. In Africa, especially Uganda, the community is extremely close. I will often see people pop into our house only to say hi, shake my dad’s hand, and leave. At first, I became confused by this. “Why drop by if you’re only saying hi?” I asked. Later, I would learn that this is part of being in a community- everyone knows everyone, and without an emphasis on relationships, true community will fall apart. Now, when I return to the United States, I actually miss having people drop by to greet my family. Without that aspect, the house seems to become lonely and quiet.
Another aspect of cultural changes can be found within interactions between people. This goes back to the idea of community. In Africa, I often greet random men at grocery stores or in the street, simply because “we’re bros” and you greet everybody, no matter your relationship with them. In the United States, our children have become saturated in the idea of “don’t talk to strangers”. While this is valid to an extent, I always find the saying amusing- after all, how are you supposed to make friends if you don’t talk to people you don’t know?
Finally, a third example of cultural change can be found within time. America is a country that revolves around time. If you are requested for a job interview at 10:00 AM, you should actually be there by 9:30, so as to be fully on time with no chance of delay. In Africa, however, time is often treated with contempt. What should have been a 6:00 meeting will actually be an 8:00 meeting, since both parties show up extremely late. This often drives visiting Americans mad, since they show up on-time (or early), only to wait at least an hour for their partner to arrive. Even the language within time is different. In the USA, saying “I’m on my way” means that you are driving on the highway, ready to arrive soon. In Africa, saying the same words could mean that the person is getting ready to leave, but hasn’t actually left yet. While this seems paradoxical, it is completely true and is simply a part of culture.
As you can understand, cultural changes are the most difficult to adjust to. If you intend on traveling for the first time, I suggest doing some reading on the cultural differences between your home country and the country you will be visiting. Being prepared and forewarned can often save you time, money or effort when in a foreign country.
If you plan on traveling across continents, be prepared for a bumpy ride. It is not as easy as it seems. Read this article, print it out, take notes, research the country you will be visiting, and do anything else to prepare you. As aforementioned, this could save you time, money, or even your life. Be prepared, it’s not easy.
If you plan on traveling across continents, be prepared for a bumpy ride.Tweet
Alright, that’s all for today. Thanks so much for reading! I hope this was helpful to you, especially if you plan on traveling soon. If you haven’t already, be sure to click that Follow button below (or to the side), so as to not miss out on any new posts like this. If you have any funny stories about intercontinental travel, feel free to leave them in the comment section below. Thanks again, and I hope you have a fantastic day.