Wednesday, June 15, 2022

What is Language/Culture Coaching?

I said in an earlier blog that I'd need to explain the coaching, so here goes:

Often when I talk about language/culture coaching, I am met with blank stares or questions.  A Language/Culture Coach can look differently in different contexts; but I’m interested in helping those–specifically missionaries–who are moving to a new country to learn that language and culture so they can be successful and remain on the field.  

Moving to a new country is a major event!  If someone is moving to a location that speaks a different language, basic skills like speaking and listening are no longer possible!  Let’s pause to let that sink in.  Basically every area of life is going to be impacted and hindered–not just practically, but also socially and relationally. 

The reason that missionaries even dare leave behind their family, friends, comforts, and all that is familiar is for the sake of relationship.  Ultimately they want to introduce others to Jesus whose relationship allows people to then get to know God the Father…and let’s not leave out the Holy Spirit who helps reveal Jesus and births the life that is meant to be continually relating to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  I started to apologize for the theological detour, but no way! ☺

Imagine going through the blood, sweat, and tears (mostly figurative 😉)  it takes to learn a second language to be able to at least communicate even if there is embarrassment or struggle.  If that were the only hurdle!  Language, however, is intricately tied to culture.  When we don’t understand the culture of a group of people, we can master the linguistics but fail to communicate–or worse, send messages of arrogance or disinterest.  This, of course, closes people off rather than cultivating relationships.  As a coach, one of my roles is to help the learner understand where culture plays into their experiences, relationships, communication, and language-learning so that they can be effective in their mission.

While Jesus supersedes us on so many levels, He Himself is our perfect example.  He humbled Himself to become not just man, but first a baby, unable to talk.  He developed His skills which thankfully do come much more naturally as an infant and child as He learned Aramaic; but He still went through the language acquisition process.  He absorbed the culture of the Bible because this was where He lived and what He experienced on a daily basis.  Olive branches, mustard seeds, farming, fishing, sheep–He grew up with these; so He could communicate with the people of Israel because He spoke the language and knew how to relate to them culturally.  He could also beautifully relate to and bring the Gospel to those outside of his home culture despite the cultural and linguistic challenges, which is the precise role of a missionary.  


Even if we were all language gurus and culturally savvy and sensitive to perfection, there is another element that language/culture coaching can address.  Cross-cultural living presents situations and needs that don’t exist or at least look very different from those in our home country.


Living in a different culture can be exciting and rewarding, but by nature it is stressful and depleting.   The constant change and different ways of thinking, understanding, and communicating put more demand on everyday tasks, making it difficult to identify the stress.


Though not an exhaustive list and maybe a bit repetitive, a coach helps the learner identify their language needs, sets realistic goals, and helps them to stick to or adjust the goals.  (S)he can help them locate resources and discern which ones are suitable for the learner at a particular time.  A coach can help the learner recognize obstacles or challenges and how to address them and encourage the learner each step of the way.  A coach is a fan and source of support, praying for and with the learner.  A coach may help the learner identify cross-cultural stress when it is not obvious.  These are just a few examples because every situation is complex, and each unique person in a particular ministry context will offer its own set of possibilities. 


For this reason, I believe that every missionary could benefit from a language/culture coach!  My desire is to come alongside missionaries who are preparing to move to (and are sometimes already in) a new country with a new language and new culture.  I also believe that short-termers would benefit from a coach, but that’s another article for another time. :)


Saturday, June 11, 2022

Moving Once, Moving Twice…

‘Tis the season to be moving, it does seem.  As mentioned, I moved into an apartment practically across the street a couple of weeks ago.  It wasn’t as nice as before, but I wasn’t looking for nice as much as safe, clean, and affordable.  

It seems the downpour on moving day was ominous when my strategic plan of a 6-person moving crew of friends foiled.  We were grateful to move the boxes in that Sunday and the furniture the next day, thanks to the generous help of friends and family.

Tuesday I was dismayed when I realized I couldn’t even go into my bathroom or the laundry area without having to cover my nose and mouth because of the smoke smell, which we later discovered was pouring in from our smoking neighbors’ apartments through the vents every time they smoked.  By Wednesday, we were thankfully let out of our lease and had less than a week to find a new place to live!

We were able to find a place not very far at all, and by the grace of God, signed the lease in time to move in June 1.  This was technically move #3 because we’d temporarily stored our things in my parents’ garage. 

This was all happening the last week of school with two major events, and I had to move out there as well!  It took a few days to get unpacked, but by Tuesday our apartment was starting to feel like home.  That’s when we had to accept the hard truth that we had a bug infestation!

When I called the pest management company, the man told us we had to clear our cabinets out!  Move #3 or 4 depending on how you look at it, as we emptied the kitchen contents which covered our dining/living area!

There is no way to sugar coat this move.  It’s been one for the books! I pray that we are on the other side, and I choose to trust that there is purpose even in this. It may have been before the move (which was preceded by the flu, then 2 weeks of sleeplessness), the Lord reminded me that He trains our hands for war. May I and we allow Him to use the difficulties we face to prepare us for future hardships. May we continue to draw near to Him no matter what. He is for us.

A/V and Chocolate

 Since I last wrote, things have been busy!  To calm the suspense, I did get a car. :). I also unexpectedly joined St. Michael’s staff to help assist with the livestream, right in time for Christmas.  Talk about a major learning curve!  There’s still so much to learn, but we now have an A/V team, yay! I’m making progress and have enjoyed getting to serve the Church in a very different capacity than I have in the past.

As mentioned last post, I taught French at an elementary school this past year. Something that was reiterated this year is that I cannot pursue coaching while I teach. Teaching takes so much time and energy; and the coaching got put on the back burner. As it turned out, the coaching course I mentioned in a previous post wasn't ready for winter/spring; so I've enrolled for the summer. In case it isn't obvious, I did not renew my teaching contract for next year.

With the long-term goal of officially moving into the language/culture coaching role and resuming missionary status, I decided to make a few lifestyle changes to help set me up for the transition.  First, the Lord provided a roommate and apartment to help reduce living costs.  Second, He provided a second part-time job so that I don't have to teach, but will allow me time and energy to devote to the coaching coursework and coaching.

That’s where the chocolate comes in.  Starting July, I will be working at my favorite local French chocolate shop and patissier.  If you’re in Charleston, come see me!  I don’t get free chocolate, but would love to see you!  I’m excited and looking forward to this new season, though there are still many unknowns.  I would appreciate prayers both for SAMS and me as we discern possibilities--whether internally or elsewhere--for me to coach in the future.