During my just-over-a-decade as a classroom teacher at Heritage, I lead one student trip to Europe with six students. We traveled about on a motor coach with students and teachers from other schools with one of those tour groups that give you a guide/interpreter, a bus, and matching logo bags.
I have a number of stories that I usually tell preceding the night I got a knock at the door that help set the stage, but I’m not going to tell them this time. Suffice it to say that this was the first passport journey for these girls and by this time, they’d had a few experiences that were challenging their world views.
The knock came in the middle of the night. It was sweet Amy who was sixteen and just about as innocent as she appeared to be. She was an emotional wreck which jarred me awake rather quickly.
“Amy, what’s wrong?”
“I can’t find my hairbrush.”
Amy had been in her hotel room (which she shared with two other girls) repacking her suitcase in the dark. She was not able to find her hair brush. This was a crisis. Enough of a crisis that she knocked on the door of her teacher at 2 am in tears.
I calmed her with promise that in daylight we’d likely discover that someone had moved it and a further assurance that she could have my hairbrush if we could not find hers. Once the tears stopped, I sent her to bed.
The next day we debriefed this event — though I don’t think I used that term in those days. “Culture shock.” (The stories I usually tell help to create the context for this conclusion — you’ll just have to trust my diagnosis.) It gave our group a chance to talk about the ways we respond — intentionally and subconsciously — to all the various factors that contribute to “culture shock.”
A few years later when I participated on a short-term mission trip to Ukraine (with over half the group being students) I used this story when as we prepared to encounter cultural differences. We knew that sometimes we would be together at meals and would want to talk about the aspects of difference that were making us feel crazy, but would not be able to do so freely without offending our hosts. We agreed that a reference to a lost hair brush might be a way to signal each other.
This turned out to work well for our group — people would occasionally announce that while they were still in possession of their brush, they felt like it might go missing sometime soon without intervention. Someone might suggest that they were considering throwing their hairbrush right into the river. I’ve told the hairbrush story time and again when talking about our natural responses to cross-cultural anything.
You can imagine how I laughed when Larry, the cucumber Veggie Tales host, first sang O, Where is my Hairbrush?!
Decades after that initial hairbrush incident, when I encounter cultural stress, I find myself humming along inside my head with that silly cucumber–a preemptive reminder that it will all look more manageable in the morning light.