Living abroad is good for your personal development


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In contrast to the majority of early and some recent literature which see culture shock as a negative construct, a positive view is offered by Juffer (1987) who considers culture shock to be caused by a “growth experience” in which change and transition are synonym of potential growth and personal development (cited in Pedersen 2005). Most of the recent literature tends to support this positive assumption. As a matter of fact, Furnham and Bochner (1986) state: “The implication is that although it may be strange and possibly difficult, sojourning makes a person more adaptable, flexible and insightful”(p.47).

In addition, recent empirical research about growth the potential of the sojourn demonstrate that although the visitor faces difficulties to adapt to the new environment, there is also an increase in awareness and understanding of oneself (Kauffmann et al., 1992 cited in Pedersen 1995), in the interest towards cross-culture issues, and a more critical attitude toward one’s culture (Carlson & Widaman, 1988, cited in Pedersen 1995). Kim (2001), asserts that the difficulties faced when experiencing culture shock lead the individual to make a greater effort in changing their old ways to carry out daily activities, achieving a better quality of life in the new environment.

Gudykunst and Kim (1984) identified the stress related to the initial culture shock a characteristic of the intercultural transformation theory, according to which an individual goes through a stress-adaptation-growth dynamic which over time becomes cyclic and continual. This initial stress the individual faces living in the new culture, which is named in the literature as acculturative stress, is believed to be not necessarily unconstructive and might in fact lead to positive results. After all, the acculturation process is a step towards assimilation as the individual makes a great effort to change their cultural patterns  in order to make them suitable to the new environment.

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The stages towards biculturality


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Alder(1975) further develops Oberg’s framework and approaches culture shock in a neutral manner rather than in a negative one. He describes the initial contact as the “the honeymoon” stage when the visitor experiences the curiosity and the enthusiasm of a tourist, but maintains their identity which is still well rooted in their cultural settings. The second stage includes the removal of the familiar cues, and the individual has to respond to the new requirements of the host culture. It is in this stage that the individual experiences self-blame and a sense of frustration for not being able to cope well with difficulties encountered. The third stage involves the reintegration of new cues and an increased ability to deal with daily life activities. The feelings associated with this stage are anger and resentment as the individual perceives the new culture as the root of the problems they have been forced to cope with. The fourth stage is when the reintegration continues. In this stage the individual continues to work towards a gradual autonomy and is able to recognise the good and the bad aspect of both cultures. It is when a more balanced view is achieved. The fifth stage is when supposedly the individual is totally confident in dealing with both cultures and therefore, has achieved biculturality of the old and new culture. However, there is some controversy over whether it would ever be possible to achieve this stage.

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