Having grown up in high-context cultures all across the globe, one of the greatest reverse culture shock experiences in reentry for me has been understanding US-America’s low-context communities, especially as it is played out in my own family dynamics. Recently, I have been confronted with my high-context way of being juxtaposed to my extended family’s low-context way of doing. This internal sub conscious negotiation surfaced to my consciousness when extended family was in town for step-Grandma Jayne’s funeral.
I was raised as a Third Culture Kid in high-context cultures. This means, for example, I developed a sense of “normal” to be: protecting family above all else, focusing on human connection through hospitality, and prioritizing intentional time with friends. I realized how different my values are to some of my extended family members’ when they did not help to care for Jayne or Grandpa the way I expected them to during her rapidly declining health. Mom, Dad, and I, operating from our high-context cultural mentality, used our time, money, and energy to support Jayne and Grandpa every way possible. We were deeply hurt when our extended family (especially Jayne’s) praised themselves in how they had done so too, viewing it through their low-context perspectives. Low-context lenses don’t consider loyalty or connection in the same way as high-context ones.
I was hurt today when I wasn’t invited out to eat lunch with some family members with Grandpa. It was obvious and obnoxious how they went out of their way NOT to invite me. This experience I had today is so diametrically opposed to my high-context ways of thinking and being. I have been hurt by these family members before in the way they operate transactionally in low-context ways so what they did to me today shouldn’t have surprised me.
It’s days like today that I wish I were abroad in one of my former high-context cultures; where my sense of belonging was robust in communities that weren’t always composed of blood family but were always composed of authentic family.