Culture Shock; The Art of Realigning Orientation

Thinking of embracing the nomadic lifestyle? Or how about just taking the family on a holiday? Here are a few ideas and practical ways to work through culture shock, from our family to yours.

First it’s important to understand that each society has its own beliefs, attitudes, customs, behaviors, and social habits. These give people a sense of who they are, how they should  behave, and what they should or should not do. These ‘rules’ reflect the ‘culture’ of a country. People become conscious of such rules when they meet people from different cultures. And so, culture shock is the interesting phenomena of realizing you don’t know those rules.

Culture shock has been defined as the feeling of disorientation, loneliness, insecurity or confusion that can occur when one is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.

Culture shock may come with any of the following symptoms:

  • Homesickness
  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Need for more sleep than normal
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Compulsive eating or loss of appetite
  • Stereotyping of and hostility towards host nationals
  • Lack of energy

As nomads, we’ve found that the more we thrust ourselves into new and unfamiliar surroundings or sit at the table with folks who think differently than us, the more barriers are broken down. And so, it is important, as we travel, to honestly accept that culture shock is a natural part of the experience, yet we have learned ways to quickly realign our orientation so that we can really engage, understand and enjoy the world around us.

One of the ways we do that is to embrace the physical symptoms and if possible we allow our bodies to get more sleep. We also pay attention to our food intake, making sure to get enough energy rich nutrients and plenty of h20. When possible, we cook for our hosts as this allows for us to eat foods that are familiar. It’s all common sense, basic stuff, but the key is to pay attention and embrace our bodies needs, whether for food, liquids or sleep.

Emotionally, we combat potential depression by talking about how we are feeling, specially if we’ve been in a situation where the world around us is dark and destructive. We talk about the feelings that are evoked when we see things that make us angry or uncomfortable and we allow each other to have those feelings as we process them out. That’s actually one of the greatest gifts of traveling as a family, having someone to talk to about things we are feeling. For instance, when we went to the Killing Fields in Cambodia, we all had a mutual experience that was quite traumatic, so to be able to sit and process with each other as well as with our hosts was a real gift in helping us move into the reality of where we were in the world. By engaging those emotions, it allowed us to develop a real sense of empathy for our Cambodian neighbors.

Mural in Bondi Beach, NSW Australia
Mural in Bondi Beach, NSW Australia

One of the greatest killers of compassion is when we stereotype, picking out all of the obvious differences and developing short-sighted opinions towards our host nationals. It’s a common way of responding to culture shock and easy to slip into that sort of thinking. However, we try to catch it as quickly as we can and instead we try to find similarities. It is when we look past the obvious differences and seek the similarities that our minds eye begins to adjust, telling our brain that what we are experiencing is familiar or at least familiar enough to begin to unpack our defences and open our hearts to learn from our hosts. We try to avoid quick judgements; seeking to understand by asking questions and looking at things from our hosts point of view. One of the most critical things that we consistently have to shelf is the belief that our cultural habits are ‘right’ and others are ‘wrong.’ Sometimes our hosts actually ask us to compare and contrast our culture to theirs but usually we answer that we haven’t developed enough of an understanding about their land to compare and contrast but if they have questions, we’d be happy to tell them things about our homeland or upbringing so that they can better understand us.

For us, the most difficult symptom of culture shock to overcome would be a feeling of homesickness, which is quite funny because we haven’t had a “home” in five years. Even so, the further we go in our travels, the farther away we feel from those who we hold dear in our hearts and the feeling of homesickness usually hits when some sort of world travesty happens. And yet, everywhere we go, we find a sense of home with those saints we meet along the way and so, our faith is what helps to keep this one in perspective. We are a part of a bigger family picture and staying open to this nomadic lifestyle allows us to connect with our extended “family” in ways that we never knew possible.




Unspoken Rules

DSC_5769The thing about travel is it takes you out of your normal context and thrusts you into a whirlwind of unknowns. The sites are in techno color and every sound is new to the ear. It’s exciting and yet there are times when the social construct becomes overwhelming and in the heat of the moment one finds a prejudice lurking in the dark corner. It rises out of the depth of the soul and lights fire to anything it touches.

This is a story of how when an unspoken rule is broken, it brings out the worst in all of us.

Recently we were up in Port Douglas, enjoying Four Mile Beach and decided to have lunch in town. We ended up on a little side lane with a number of food vendors to choose from. We walked up and down the street looking for something yummy and cheap to eat. The fella’s ended up with Meat Pies from the local bakery. And, Graciana and I ordered a Veggie Curry with Naan from a little Indian Cafe. The sidewalk was wide and all along the shops were tables, so we found one right outside the Indian cafe. An Indian couple served us while their two little daughters playfully danced around the tables. The couple wasn’t necessarily friendly, in fact they seemed a little bothered to even be there. None the less, the price was right and the food smelled amazing, so we paid and sat down outside their shop.
DSC_5972Craig and Banjo joined us with their pies and as we were waiting for our food we saw the infamous, Campbell the Bushman. We had met him two years ago at the Yackendanda Folk Festival (he’s a bit of an institution on the folk festival circuit.) He truly is a Bushman, carrying his tucker bag (backpack) and bed roll, roving the wild country and making his way from festival to festival to tell stories. He’s a large man with a bright smile but can be a bit intimidating if you don’t know who he is. I called him over, exclaiming “Uncle, so good to see you again, come sit with us.” He responded with a bright smile and joined us. We shared our food and drink with him and caught up on his travels across Australia. We learned that he was originally from South Australia and that he is part Irish, Part Maori and Part Aboriginal. As he and Craig were chatting I began to notice people around us. Mind you, Port Douglas isn’t for the average citizen but rather a tourist town for the wealthy. Everything is green and beautiful. The streets are clean and everyone has on their best garb. We even saw a young woman in a lovely dress and tiara. Not a dress up tiara, but a real one. There were fancy people and fancy cars all around us.
So, as we sat there I started to recognized the juxtaposition we were in, the four of us, looking a bit average with the homeless Campbell at our table. However, as I watched Campbell there was no shame in his gaze. He sat there with us chatting away like he belonged. It was refreshing and we took his lead. Sure, I noticed the energy from others who did not approve, could see it in their eyes and on their breath as they whispered our direction but it was as if we had a bubble of protection around us and we were free to enjoy the moment with our friend.
Then I noticed the Indian couple staring at us with an apprehensive stature. So, I went into the shop and with great enthusiasm, I let them know that Campbell was our friend, and that he was a famous story-teller! They were confused at first, but the more I spoke with excitement about Campbell, the more they smiled. Honestly, I don’t know if we even spoke the same language, or if they really understood what I was trying to tell them but it was lovely to see them smile.
I went back out to finish my meal, which by the way was fantastic. The Indian woman followed behind me with another table/chairs out for her customers. As soon as she went back inside, a blonde haired older woman sat at that table with her grandson. They had come up the street from the Bakery and were about to enjoy their meat pies, when the Indian woman come out and abruptly told the blonde lady that table was for her customers. The blonde lady was very bothered by the rebuke and shouted out, “So, are you asking me to move lady?” The Indian woman walked away and the bubble around us popped.
The Indian lady had made an effort to care for her customer and brought out an extra table and unfortunately the blonde lady crossed her unseen boundary. However, to the blonde lady it just sounded irrational because there were empty tables all around us. I turned to the blonde lady and kindly suggested that even if she just moved over one table it would appease the Indian lady and the conflict would be resolved. She answered, “I can’t even be bothered, what’s the point.” And with in a final effort to expel her rage she finished with, “this is what you get when things aren’t run by Australians!” I was flabbergasted and taken aback. I answered, “Yeah… No, that’s not right. That’s actually really rude.” and I wanted to add, you should be ashamed of yourself, but I chickened out.
I was up all night thinking about the interaction. How easy it is to sit in judgement! How does one go from smiles and lunch with a grandchild, to being asked to move and responding with a power thrust of hate?
It’s simple really, she broke an unwritten rule, crossed a cultural line and because she didn’t know about the rule ahead of time, spiraled into twisted thinking, becoming the victim and indignantly retaliated.
I know… because I’ve been dealing with it ever since we arrived in Australia. As an American, I don’t know all of the cultural norms here and so I find myself in situations where I break unwritten rules and feel rebuked much of the time. In some sense, it feels like I’m walking on egg shells, waiting for the next admonishment. And, when I fail, the anger that rises inside of me always catches me off guard.
For instance, we went to the movies a few days ago, I asked for a ticket and the young man at the register asked if I wanted front, middle or back seating. I was confused and asked him if they were assigned seats. He said yes and my heart deflated as the power to choose my own experience was stripped from me. I took my ticket and I walked reluctantly in to the theatre to find my seat. When I got there, I noticed that the screen was smaller than expected and the seat he assigned me was to far away. I looked around and saw an empty seat a few rows down so I moved. However everyone else was happy to follow the rule and I soon found myself being asked to move, as the seats belonged to another. Anger rose, my thinking inflated and I exclaimed to those close enough to hear what I though of the silly rule! I took another look around and assessed that there was plenty of empty seats but the question became, do I move back to my assigned seat or take the risk and try again? I went for the risk and looked for a more attractive empty seat, which ended up being open to me. However, once I sat down, the embarrassment from the previous move rose and more anger settled on me. Just under my breath, I mumbled, “stupid Australians, always following the rules.” Ugh! What a jerk am I! As soon as it came out of my mouth I knew I was in for a smack down! (aka. a lesson.)
So here is what I’m learning, in some of the most beautiful setting by the way, I’m learning, what I already knew, that we all have clay feet. Me, Campbell, the Indian couple, the blonde grandma, the clerk at the movie theater, the person who’s seat I took, we are all made of the same mud, we all struggle with a deep need for grace. Human nature is to self protect, to find favor and position by putting others down and feeling good about one’s self, feeling in control trumps whatever rules we find unworthy or in our way. I’m not convinced it’s something we can curb on our own by white knuckling our way through. Hoping that the next time around we do better. Here’s the thing though, I do believe we can be healed from it, just as the Psalmist writes “create in me a pure heart, Oh God. And, renew a right spirit within me.”
As we travel, this is my longing, that my mind be made new. God helping me: I want to take my everyday, ordinary life, whether nomadic or not— sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. I don’t want become so well-adjusted to my culture that I fit into it without even thinking. Instead, I’ll fix my attention on God. And as the ancient text says, I’ll be changed from the inside out! For that is where the change must happen, on the inside.

D. C. On a Dime

Nomadic life is not the same as being a tourist on vacation. Nomadic life contains all the same mundane qualities of stationary life, just in motion. We have to do laundry, grocery shop, make meals, clean our bus, do school work, book musical gigs, find communities and host families to neighbor alongside, negotiate the road ways in a 40 ft rig, take care of maintenance on our bus and van and sleep, yes, sleep is good. And then, depending on our host and how we are all feeling, we might venture out to see the main attractions but usually our preference is to actively engage with the local culture through the eyes of our host. Once in a while, however, we get to go explore like a tourist. The difficulty for us, is the most of those moments, we’re broke. Ha! So, it was with our visit to DC.

We did find, though, that there were plenty of things to do on a dime. In fact, there were a number of free things DC had to offer. We visited the White House, the Capitol building, most of the Memorials and Monuments, the Smithsonian museums, including the Natural History, Air & Space, US History, the Zoo and Botanical gardens. We had a few spare dollars for parking and for meals. Our first dinner was at an authentic Ethiopian restaurant called Dukem Restaurant and our second meal was at District Taco.


And, then as a special treat, Craig took our son, Banjo, to his first major league baseball game. They saw the Washington Nationals vs. Craig’s favorite Chicago Cubs. Sadly the Cubs lost, but they had a great time and Banjo fell in love with the game. Being his first experience in the big leagues, he had a funny little moment while walking in to the stadium, pointing out the Nationals logo on everyone shirts with confusion and asking Craig if there was a Walgreens convention going on at the game that night. Craig laughed and quickly explained that it was the team logo. Banjo, was embarrassed but still found it silly that they would have such similar logos.


All up, our favorite museum was the Air & Space and we loved the Zoo and Botanical Gardens. Our favorite monument was good ol’ Abe as it was exhilarating to sit on the steps, people watch, and look across the reflecting pool at the Washington Monument. And for our meals, Dukem was probably a bit out of our price range but we ended up sharing a platter for two and one extra main between the five of us, and it was plenty. The food was amazing! District Taco was fast, delicious and we were able to fill our bellies for about $8 a person.

Our time was well spent and we learned a ton but next time around, we’d hope to connect with a host family or community and get the other side of life in Washington DC.

Bus Conversion; Sneak Peak

The Hollands! BusToday marks our Three Year Anniversary!

In August 2011, we gave away all of our possession and bought a 1984 MCI-9 Motorcoach (bus). Over the course of two months we would begin the conversion process with the help of many friends, neighbors and family. We departed Green Bay, WI in our bus on Oct 13, 2011, with the exterior walls, couch, dinette and master bed in tact. The rest of the bus was a container. We set off for our first stop in Sister, OR where another handful of friends and family helped us build out the kitchen cabinets, framing bedrooms and installing the electrical system. We left Oregon and as we traveled we built out what we could, when we had the resources and time. Over the course of the next three years we installed the plumbing system and finished off the bathroom complete with a shower and hot water. We have traveled over 60,000 miles, through 36 states. We are peace pilgrims, folk revivalists, and merrymakers. And, this is our home today.

PS. Video was filmed on an I-Phone 4 and we realize the quality isn’t ideal but hopefully you get a good glimpse for now. Also, here is the first design floor plan drawn by our friend, Marc Brummel. We adapted it as we built, moving the shower, sink and toilet but the basic design is the same.

Bus Conversion Floor Plan

Interview with Florida Outdoor RV

The Hollands! – Merrymaking Nomads

December 3, 2013 By  

Jana from The Hollands kindly offered to do an interview with me! They travel the world singing and bringing joy to people everywhere. Enjoy it and let us know what you think!

The Hollands! Bus

What inspired to you to hit the road and do full time RVing…or I guess “Busing” in your case!

At the end of 2010 we, The Hollands! (Americana Folk Band and family) recognized a huge disconnect in our marriage, family, spirituality, global footprint and finances. Typical to most middle American families, we were working full time, pursuing our musical passion, school committee’s, organizing neighborhood gatherings and with what energy we had left, dreaming about a slower more deliberate pace. A pace that included deeper connectivity, reconciliation and purpose. Thus began the process to align all of those areas in our lives.

We started by casting a dream/vision for a life that was simpler, less fragmented and community driven. We released our possessions, bought a bus and began a journey converting it into a home on wheels, learning to home school, connecting with communities across the US and Australia and making music.

How has this decision affected your life? Your Family? Your lifestyle? Your values?

A paradigm shift has taken place in our ideology about most things in our life, especially “wants” verses “needs.” The effect has been more than noticeable.  Downsizing from 2000 sq ft home to 300 sq ft bus has been quite the process. I would say especially for our children, ages 17 and 12. (girl and a boy) They share a 7 x 71/2 bunk room and each have 4 drawers and shared closet. We left in a bus that was unfinished and have been building it on the road. The first year we had no plumbing, but somehow found plenty of toilets to use. I will say, however, that when the plumbing was finally installed we celebrated.

Our living quarters 2011
Our finished living quarters 2013

Through this process our family has grown tremendously closer. We live in a small space and the four of us are together 24/7 so it’s obvious when the harmony is off. We respect each others space and process but the commitment to finding that harmony again moves much quicker than when we used to live in a large home, all going our different directions.

We’ve also found a deeper connection with our music, performing over 90 shows a year, writing new material, and having other musicians travel/tour with us. It’s proving to be a very good education for us all.

I’m not sure our pace is much slower than our former lifestyle, but it is much more purposeful. Over the past two years we have traveled to 32 states and all but a handful of nights were spent parked with “host” families.  We’ve connected with most, if not all of the ‘host” families through our social media networks or from referrals from friends. Those times when we did not find a host family or needed time to ourselves we stayed at State Parks or RV Parks.

Our greatest joy on this journey has been being invited into the lives of so many families, to share in community and see all sorts of different ways to do life, from carnivores to vegans, Republicans, Democrats, Anarchists and everything in-between, a plethora of religious ideals to those who claim no faith.  We’ve had the opportunity to try all sorts of foods, music, sports, outdoors activities, etc… We’ve been invited to share sacred space, learn new customs and rituals, and have heard stories of trials, pain, betrayal, hope, joy and faith.

IMG_4612   IMG_0149 IMG_8248

What does a normal day look like for you?

It looks different every single day. There is no normal.

What advice would you give to the beginner full time traveler or RVer?

If you are a family, the most important thing we could advise is to move forward with purpose. Discuss as a family what your hope is in traveling, are you looking for the crux to be educational, service, rest, exploration, tourist, or a combination of those. Revisit that conversation regularly. Dialog about your strengths and weakness as individuals and as a family whole, decide to use those strengths for the greater good, lift each other up in your weakness and be open to the entering the unknown. Be open to moving upstream.

Please visit FLORIDA OUTDOOR RV for more fantastic stories of FULL TIMERS.

Two Years Baby!

Today marks our two-year anniversary of nomadic life. Thinking about all of the individuals and families that helped to make all of this happen. Those at the very beginning and those we continue to meet along the way.

When we pulled out of Green Bay, Wisconsin we had our couch, dinette and bed built, the rest of our belongings were in boxes on the floor of the bus. We had $1800 in our pockets and our first week on the road we trekked over 2000 miles to Sisters, OR. We arrived with only two hundred dollars left in our pocket and wondered what in the world we were going to do.

Little did we know that there was a community and purpose waiting for us!  We spent three months in that community finding our legs and experiencing a massive shift in our thinking about life, purpose, humanity and God.

Every single thing that has been built on the bus has a story that involves donated or refurbished materials and/or kinfolk offering a helping hand. Story upon story, layer upon layer of community, beauty and worth.

Today we don’t celebrate our efforts but we celebrate all of those who have persevered and come along side of us through this journey.

We celebrate those who have hosted us in their driveways, allowed us to use showers, laundry and space.

We thank those who have allowed us to invade their lives, shared story, community and meals.

We thank those who have graciously offered us the cash in their pockets to help us with gas, repairs, and groceries.

We celebrate those who have invited us into the fold, those who have trusted us to lead them in sacred space.

We thank friends who continue to hold us accountable, challenge and encourage us in our marriage, family and faith.

We thank the youth we have met along the way, that open their hearts to our children, that inviting them into their lives, sharing the experiences of football games, dances, going to movies, parties, and staying in touch with them when we leave.

We celebrate those who have educated us along our way, homeschool parents, teachers, and those with special gifts and resources, offering us opportunities to learn to surf, horseback ride, ski, mountain bike, hiking, fly fishing, work with fine art, graffiti art, CSA farming, and building/flying RC Planes.

We thank those who are doing amazing things to advocate for the marginalized and their willingness to allow us to come along side and encourage, serve and learn.

We celebrate you! Every single one of you! Thank you for loving us and cheering us on.


The Realities of Downward Mobility

IMG_1977Downward mobility is one of the phrases used to describe the backlash to the consumerist “American Dream.” Websters says it’s moving to a lower social class; losing wealth and status.

And yet, there are many educated and socially conscious people who are making a choice to live outside of the cookie cutter box and in doing so are apart of the downward mobility movement. These are people who value quality over quantity, and community over individuality and those values drive most decisions.  Ideally it’s co-op housing, pooling resources, urban gardens and community driven.  It is youthful ambition and for many the decision is spiritually minded. For most, it is a naive assumption that they can “choose’ to live below their means without the stigma of ‘being poor.” It’s about having fortitude and being resourceful not poor. But, at some point or another the ideal becomes a reality, in more ways than they expected and poverty knocks at their door.

When we look back at our decision to downsize and become mobile it was very idealistic, romantic and for the first time in our married life we felt alive. Two years into this journey, we still feel alive and we know we are on the right path however, there are times when we question. The questions come during those moments when we feel like our choice is no longer a choice. One such moment came while at a grocery store recently. I had exactly $75 in my pocket and nothing more to spend. On a side note, in the past, we lived with credit debt and when I’d go shopping for groceries or anything within reason, I’d pull out my credit/debit card without blinking an eye. I wouldn’t pay much attention to prices or how much I was adding to my cart. Whether it was on my list or not, if I wanted it, I got it. Fast forward to cash in my pocket.

My daughter came with me and I had a list of about seven items to purchase. Once we entered the store, all sorts of other items ended up in my cart. We were shopping and totally engrossed in our conversation. When we got to the check out and the man rang up $189.00, I automatically began to pull out my pocket-book only to realize I had just the $75.00 in my pocket. I began to panic, the line was building up behind me and I had to decide what to do. I apologized to the teller and asked him if he’d put my order aside so I could run back to our bus and get my checkbook. He shrugged his shoulders with disappointment and set the cart off to the side. As we walked to the door, I felt so embarrassed. I’ve forgotten my purse in the past but always knew I’d be back with my credit card in hand. This time was different, I had no more money to come back with and I was contemplating walking out to never look back.

But, I needed the seven items on my list and I knew it was prideful to waste the gas to go to another store. And so, we stopped in the lobby of the store, composed ourselves, went back into the store, found our cart and began to pick through the items. We found the seven most important, figured that there might be a few extra’s we could add to the order and went back to the teller. By this point, the fella didn’t seemed pleased to have to go back through the order and delete most of the items. His manager was called over to help with the process and all eyes were upon us. As we rifled through the items watching the counter ring up closer and closer to our $75 dollar budget I had an overwhelming feeling of empathy for those who live like this on a daily basis. I know it was just a taste and that there are many who go without daily but it was a humbling moment. One that continues to go with me every time I go to the grocery store. I have gotten stronger and brighter when I reach the check out knowing that most likely I’ll have to put the top shelf back and that’s OK.

I am thankful for this process of understanding and the discipline that comes when we enter into the mystery. I am thankful that I can give a voice to the vulnerable feelings that one feels when there seems no recourse. I am thankful for those who come along side of us and share the burden. And, I am thankful for faith,  grace and mercy.