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Matthew Steinfeld: Culture Shock Hits Late

2019-01-25

Matthew Steinfeld grew up in a Christian household in the U.S. where he learned that teaching Bible is a continuous process of discovery. The desire to teach students who might not necessarily be Christian brought Matthew to Lithuania in the Fall of 2016. Now as he is establishing a family and working in the Theology Department at LCC, Matthew Steinfeld realises that in Klaipeda he is no longer an outsider.

Could you please introduce yourself and how you decided to move to Lithuania?

I am Matthew Steinfeld, assistant professor in the LCC Theology Department. I first heard about LCC through the Coalition of Christian Colleges and University (CCCU) organisation. Prior to that, I had met and talked with Tom Boone, the previous department chair of Theology at LCC. Following our conversation, he told me about available positions at LCC and I became interested in the job. I first came to Lithuania in 2016. However, honestly I did not know where Lithuania was located. It sounded exotic to me–at least different. One of the attractions that drew me to LCC was that I had just finished my Ph.D. in Biblical Studies and wanted to teach undergraduates, but I did not want to teach in a Christian setting.

What is the reason behind teaching in a non-Christian setting?

Everyone knows that LCC is a Christian University, but unlike such North American institutions, the students are predominantly non-Christian. I was aware that when teaching Bible Studies classes, I would be teaching primarily secular, atheist, or agnostic students. I viewed this as a sort of challenge because I am passionate about being with students as they discover something new. For me, this is one of the joys of teaching. Teaching Bible Studies is more than just a subject; it is something that has profoundly affected my life. So, to present the Bible in a way that is not “preachy”, but rather something that I consider a serious challenge and fun, was and continues to be appealing to me. I grew up in a Christian home: my dad was a minister and I know what it means to constantly be under such influence. I remember how frustrated, annoyed, and rebellious I was, which made me resistant to hear any message. I had my own thoughts about religion and faith and wanted to teach the Bible in a way that I might have taught myself at the age of 16 or 18. I often wonder what is going through students’ minds when they read the Bible for the first time.

What was adaptation like for you, moving from the U.S. to Lithuania?

Before coming to Lithuania, I lived in England for three years which was a massive culture shock. Despite no language barriers, I was thrown into a community of people where I worked and went to church, yet still felt like an outsider. When I came to LCC, I felt almost like a local native since students who come here could be considered outsiders because they are required to speak English and must adjust to the North American style of education. Culture shock was minimal because many people around me were either American or Canadian. I lived on campus for two years; I managed to get by at the grocery store or at a restaurant with my “pidgin” Lithuanian. I think that in order to stay and thrive in any foreign setting, one has to eventually become like the people that surround them.

How long did it take to notice cultural differences between Lithuania and the U.S.?

Because I was not fully immersed into the Lithuanian culture, true culture shock may not have fully hit until after a year and a half of living in Klaipėda. The more exposure I had to the culture, the more I recognized and noticed the differences. When I first arrived, I lived on campus where I did not have to deal with too much frustration. However, when I moved off campus into the Old town, I found that during many incredibly stressful situations, I needed to be able to communicate in Lithuanian. Situations such as when someone was fighting on the bus or asking me simple questions about anything, I wanted and needed to be able to respond. Everyday examples such as a pipe leaking in my apartment that I needed to have fixed, but the person on the phone would say “Aš nekalbu angliškai” (I do not speak English) became commonplace. I was living in a different culture and needed to speak in Lithuanian to explain what happened. Culture shock typically involves stressful or problematic situations in which you desperately want and need to express yourself–and you are trying your best–but you cannot communicate well enough to be understood.

Is there anything in particular that you miss about the U.S.?

I do miss certain foods such as my favorite cereal or soda. I would prefer to put my clothes in a dryer instead of hanging them to dry. I do not always wish for things I miss to be made available here, but, of course, I notice differences. For example, food in Lithuania seems comparatively cheap, while clothing, shoes, and electronics are comparatively expensive. However, 5-6 years ago when I lived in the States full time, a basic phone bill cost around $100 a month. Here, my phone bill is 3-4 Eur a month. Unexpected, surprising differences! I do miss some aspects of the U.S. existence, but I also have learned to appreciate aspects of Lithuanian existence including inexpensive, affordable health care.

Have you noticed any changes in your perception of the world after moving to Lithuania?

One thing that comes to mind is realising that I only get out of my experiences what I put into them. I am learning slowly that if I want to have friends, I must take the initiative and meet new people. I must interact with others in the community. This can be more difficult for some people than others, but I think it is hard for me as well. However, the risk-taking type of people who come to Lithuania from North America or from the West may be a little bit strange and unique anyway! I always try to remind myself that if I want something, I ask. Start it yourself. Go after it and try to make it happen. It is tempting to escape inside oneself and stay inside our own bubbles. Cultural differences can creep in and cause people to be afraid or overwhelmed, but learning to relate to others across cultures changes you and enriches your own world. I have learned that I should start making a difference and not just sit around waiting for everything to come to me.

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