Ryan and Elna Mitchell

Ryan and Elna Mitchell

sent out by Grace Fellowship Pretoria to plant churches among the Ndo people

culture shock

– noun

the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.


We were warned that we’d experience some degree of culture shock during our first weeks here in PNG. Thankfully, God blessed us with wonderful team mates who have made the transition so much easier! They often explain ‘little things’ that are helpful to know – like ‘a carton of eggs’ is a box with 9 dozen eggs, not one dozen! We often think of how much harder it must have been when the three families from GBC arrived…

Life here is pretty similar in many ways. 

  • Our diet has not changed much. We were pleasantly surprised to find even Cadbury’s chocolate (something we really missed while living the the US). Grocery stores have a bigger variety than we expected. But unfortunately there is not much consistency – we would find something we like, and then it is not available a few days later. Another great thing, is the local butchery. Pricey, but clean, and with good quality meat. God is providing in our every need! More on where we shop under ‘different things’…
  • Safety – You probably expected to find this item on the different things list. But in reality, we are no less safe here than we were in SA. Our electric fence, alarm system and armed response have simply been replaced with guards.

(Pictures below are of our garden.)

  • Bugs, and other critters – Well, the bugs might be slightly different – butterflies are bigger! But our children still have the same affinity for them. We do get bitten by mozzies and other bugs often, but nothing serious as yet. The kids especially enjoy finding sea creatures!

In other ways, we are doing things differently. 

  • The biggest thing that is different is that we are not close to family, friends and our church. We’ve been able to communicate with them though, and we’re so thankful that we did not have to board a ship, hoping to arrive at our destination in a few months… We are so thankful for the technology that has enabled us to stay in contact.
  • We’ve attended the church that our friends, the Lehmans, worship with here in Madang. Our Tok Pisin is still such that we do not understand a lot. But we could read and join in the singing! Every time we go, we understand more. And we were so blessed by the interest and care shown by the sweet people at EBC.
  • Sounds – oh my! During our first week here, I even made recordings of the ‘ambient’ noise  at 4.30am to send my parents. As I am typing, I can hear a plethora of sounds: Veggietunes and two kids loudly singing along (our noise!); and lots of different birds, dogs, and people. I can hear a stone-filled bucket hung from a tree down the road, clanging loudly – the tree is host to a LOT of Flying Foxes, and when the nursery school kids come out to play they pull on the rope, in hopes of chasing away the bats (guano on your head is no fun!). It works, but they always return after a few minutes. I can also hear a neighbour doing metal work – we love most of the sounds from their yard. Both the mom and dad often sing to, and play with their laughing kids. However they have a rooster that I call ‘Drumstick’ – because I’m pretty sure that sooner or later he’s going to end up on my dinner table!
  • Shopping – no more ‘Housewives Market’. Bigger farmers bring truckloads of fresh produce to the border of town. This is then sold by the bag to locals, who pack out there produce on plastic sheets at the local market. Some of the sellers have smaller gardens, and bring their own produce – they typically come with PMV’s (Public Motor Vehicles), buying two seats – one for themselves and one for the big bag! At the market, you can buy small bundles or piles of fresh (or at least kind of fresh) fruit and veg. Also available at the market is a variety of crafty products – bilum bags, wood carvings, clothing… Again, while we do go to the market with a list, we often find new or unexpected things in the place of fruit we were hoping to find. We’ve discovered some lovely new fruit and veggies, but probably not as many as you’d imagine. Another difference is that we often need to pay with cash – and not just at the market. Card machines here are seriously unreliable.

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  • People. The people here in Madang are very friendly to us. We are almost always greeted with enthusiasm, and once people hear us trying to speak Tok Pisin they are very happy to laugh at our attempts. Sadly they are not always as friendly to each other… We often hear angry shouting, or intoxicated fighting. In truth, that might actually not be too different from South Africa either – you see, even if we are culturally more reserved, the heart is where the root of the problem is. A wife giving her husband the silent treatment, is fostering the same anger as the husband lashing out in anger… Another thing we expected, is that we stick out a bit with our white skins – we are not too perturbed by it, but we do get stared at. I suspect this is mostly because we look different. But it is also culturally acceptable to stare, look over fences, peer through windows, inspect other’s clothes etc. So we’ve gotten used to just greet everyone who stares… 
  • The weather. It seemed for a while that PNG and SA were having a contest to be the warmest. But in the long run, because it remains constantly hot here, I think PNG wins. Another draining aspect of the weather, is the humidity – it increases the ‘felt temperature’ significantly. We always have all our windows open and ceiling fans on. 
  • Orchids (and other plants). This might seem like a silly thing to add to the list. But my (Elna) maternal grandmother loved orchids, and my mom still does. So I am constantly taking pictures to share with my family. The variety of orchids here is simply astounding! They are grown in coconut husks, or on trees, crawling up high! We have two types – a tiger orchid and a Masdevalia (I think!) that are flowering high up in trees in our garden. We’ve also started purchasing some flowers to take up to Mawerero with us. And Amelia’s already started a veggie garden in the village – we are so excited!

I could keep going, but then I would probably never get to posting this. I guess the point is this – there are enough familiar things that we’re not going crazy. But there are also enough new things that we are constantly reminded we are not ‘from here’. Which is good. We are sojourners on earth, after all. Ambassadors for our King.