A day in the village

Culture Shock and the Stress of Living Overseas

Culture Shock. Stress. The many stages of crazy that hits those living and working overseas.

I have learned a lot about stress since we began this process nearly four years ago. I’ve learned about the toll it takes on our bodies, our health and our minds.

The pressure is unbelievable.

The stress effects every area of our lives. Culture shock stress effects our girls, our marriage, our finances, our ability to rest, our relationships, our feelings, and our inner sense of peace.

Sometimes we eat ice cream. lots of ice cream.

Life overseas is like a pressure cooker that you know is only getting hotter.

and hotter. More steam. More tension.

A pressure cooker that at times seems completely inactive… until you sense the pressure has been building all along.

Oh, we have love the adventure, the fun, the joys.

Culture Shock - Stress of Living and Working Overseas

We love the travel, the people, the sights, the experiences… we are truly loving this path God has us on.

We would not choose anything else. We can’t imagine doing anything different from this fun, stress-filled, exciting, God-given life!

Yet, with all the smiles we put on up on the blog and via social media, it might be hard to see the stress behind the smiles.

In fact, we don’t even realize the stress behind the smiles until we sit and have a moment of quiet.

We actually, on most days, handle the stress very well.

But those quiet moments, in the quiet we realize the pressure involved.

We think we handle it well.

Until it explodes during paperwork and reports or budget reviews or late night car rides or checking into a nasty hotel or realizing the amount of work still left to do when we are absolutely exhausted from the work we just finished. Or, when it is time to pack up again, fitting our lives into a few suitcases. The figuring of what’s needed for the upcoming events on the calendar.

When things don’t go as planned on the field. When the electrician drills a hole in your main water line. When the car breaks and no one you trust is around to fix it. When your househelper steals from you. When your co-workers misunderstand you. on and on and on.

I say explodes in a way that means an inner explosion. The crazy melding of emotions that are breathed to life from the reality of our situation.

A move overseas.

A monstrous budget to raise. and keep raising.

The selling of our belongings.

The dreaded yet anticipated day we will arrive at an airport and say goodbye to our families for a very long time.

The looming feelings of living in a foreign country.

The realities of taking our girls out in to a dangerous world, seeing them have jaw pain or sleeplessness from their own stress of transition, watching them repeatedly start new schools and say goodbye.

The mixed emotions of being so happy to go, so willing to be sent, so thrilled to journey afar and the knowledge of the cost. for everyone.

The phone calls during support raising. The awkward financial discussions with strangers and with people you’ve known for years. Having your personal finances and spending be an open book to so many other people.

The misunderstandings of our lifestyle.

The conversations with muted under-tones of rejection and possibility. Missionary jokes. Unintended hurtful moments.

Culture Shock - Stress of Living and Working Overseas

The mental math, mental social skills, and mental challenges.

Conflicting days, roller coaster moments, up and down struggles.

All the highs and lows at home and abroad.

With all of that, I started doing some reading about stress and overseas life and the effects of one on the other.

Between what I found out about stress in missions, then throw in the previous years of pastoral ministry, the statistics from Focus on the Family and other researchers are staggering.

Mix in the research done about stress for those living in another culture. Learning about the culture shock that hits so hard.

You have quite the scenario. We are living quite the scenario.

Dangerous stress levels peek at 200 causing many, many vicious health conditions.

First time missionaries reach levels of 900+

Returning missionaries live at levels of 600+

As this overseas worker said, many of the daily life moments that cause stress are not even life moments listed on the stress level scale widely used in testing a person’s stress.

The staggering statistics we came from and the pressure we are currently living plus the incredible stress causing situations to come.

Knowing the odds we face, we go. Missionary families read books, keep learning, pray a lot and trust that God will help them. We go standing on a powerful foundation of God’s calling and your promise to support us in prayer daily.

We know and have experienced the terrible effects of culture shock and the high stress levels for extended periods of time.

The cost paid. The price extracted. The toll taken.

Life overseas isn’t easy. Culture shock is not easy.

You know you live overseas when...

We know that. We trust it. and we go.

We go with eyes wide open to the risks but with eyes wide open to the price our Savior paid on the cross.

Because of that, we excitedly go to share His story with the world.

But the stress is real. Culture shock is real. The pressure is real. And we need His help, your prayers.

And maybe a little bit more ice cream.





  1. Thank you for the article. As a counselor it is easy to slip into a mode where I look at things objectively instead of allowing myself to recognize and deal with the stress that comes with a missionary life. After 18 months of itineration with 2 small children we were exhausted. Thankfully we were able to have about a month and half to prepare for our move and rest. At first it was difficult to sit in church and not do anything but after a few weeks I started to appreciate the time of rest (if you can call packing up your entire house/saying goodbye to your loves ones and familiar things/dealing with international shipping) a time of rest =)
    Any ways, we are now in Spain and what has made this transition worst than the last time is that I thought we had it all figured out. Our expectation was for a smooth transition. HA! We have encountered UNEXPECTED roadblocks and unexpected stressors in the last few weeks. I guess what I am saying is something my wife who is a missionary kid told me that the closer we can get our expectations with reality the better. Somehow this helps to lessen the effects of stress. What do you or others think? Has this been the case in your experience?

  2. Yes… Yes to everything you said. Lol
    I don’t know if I can really add much else, but it’s all a fight. A fight to stay encouraged. A fight to remember with whom our trust lies. A fight to be excellent at something we’ve never done. However, today’s battle prepares us for tomorrow’s war.

    Can’t get away from this scripture in the past couple weeks.

    Judges 3:1
    1 These are the nations that the LORD left in the land to test those Israelites who had not experienced the wars of Canaan. 2 He did this to teach warfare to generations of Israelites who had no experience in battle.

    Talking about this subject with those that truly understand what we’re going through is one of the best ways to stay sane. Good job Jenilee!

    1. oh, love those verses! Thanks for sharing them! Yes, all this preparation for the things that only God knows we will face in the coming days. It is an honor to submit to the process and allow God to teach us the things we must learn to do the job He has called us to do. Thanks for coming over and adding your thoughts!! Miss you guys!

  3. Dear Jenilee, I so appreciate what you have written! I am Andy Smith’s mom, and I do understand much of what you have said. Many years ago, I was planning to go to Papua New Guinea, but, my steps got knocked off the path I was following for the Lord, and I never made it. I really can’t complain, because the Lord gave me Andy, and his 2 brothers, and I am blessed. I actually think it funny that you are preparing with 3 little girls while Andy and Jen have their 3 boys. I think you have the harder job though. (Just my opinion.) Please know that you and your “tribe” will be both blessed and a blessing as you walk that daily path that He will put before you. I pray just now that the Lord will give you unusual speed and comfort as you prepare to step out on this awesomely wonderful way! If there is a way that I can be on your email newsletter list or something like that, I would love to be able to follow your course. God’s richest blessings!!!!!

    1. Oh, thank you for your sweet comment! Thanks for saying hello. Yes, the Smith’s have 3 boys and here we are with 3 girls! We are blessed to know them and thankful to have such great friends on this journey. I will add you to our newsletter list and we really appreciate your prayers! God Bless!

  4. I hate to tell you, but the stress is only beginning. I tell you this to help you prepare. To wrap your brain around it now. It is worth it most days. There are days though it is only by the grace of God. Every fiber screams ‘quite’ its to hard. Not encouraging I know. But push forward. pray harder. grow a big support system. You will need it.

    1. I appreciate your comment! We can’t even begin to wrap our brains around the stress to come. But we know it will come. And we know that God sees and will be our help! Looking forward to meeting you next week!

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