Gained in Translation

The expression “lost in translation” makes sense. Some phrases don’t translate well from one language to the other, carrying the same meaning across borders is challenging. It’s only practical that people would say words get “lost in translation”.

But interacting with people of different cultures and countries involves so much more than words. There’s plenty of room for misunderstanding, but as I’ve befriended people from all over the world, sought to understand them and committed silly cultural faux paus along the way, so much has been “gained in translation” for me.

There’s a richness, a fullness to the picture of our world that comes into focus as you engage people from all nations. The way we each grew up, our own set of traditions, are a small part of the whole. Every time I interact with a new people group, something changes inside of me, like my mind is reprogramming itself to accommodate the new information. A few years ago, in NYC, I saw a Broadway play called “The King and I”. In this play, a teacher from England comes to Thailand and changes the king’s worldview irrevocably, simply by who she is. This greatly upsets his assistant, who eventually says to the teacher, “I wish you had never come here. The King can’t be any of the things he was before he met you.”

Befriending Italian college students was one of my first, big cross-cultural experiences. They taught me to linger and listen, to prioritize time with people. Their zest for life was contagious.

Nicaraguans showed me gratitude, humility and an entrepreneurial spirit.

My Chinese friends have shown be the beauty of living as part of a community.

Indians have encouraged me to dance, play, laugh and better honor my family.

I love Jesus more because of the encouragement of my Korean brothers and sisters.

I am more hospitable because of my Thai friends.

I have learned how to make bruschetta, chai, bubble tea, Chinese dishes and gimbap. In some ways, I am not any of the things I was before I made international friends. In others, I haven’t changed, but have found solace in the divine ways in which my friends and I are all the same. I’ve cried with people from many cultural backgrounds over the loss of a loved one, gushed about dating and confessed fears about the future.

Part of me does wish I could speak to people all over the world in their own heart languages, but a bigger part of me relishes what we gain in crossing cultures as we reach out, ask questions, misunderstand each other and help fill in the global puzzle as we share about our own cultures, too.


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