Culture Shock – A Study Case


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As a result of a new pattern developed by recent research, emerges a new model of culture shock; an educational, growth model which emphasises the potential positive consequences of culture shock. An anecdotal illustration to this new concept of culture shock is the experience of a friend who came in the UK to stay only for a few months. When she first arrived in London her language skills were very low and it was the first time she had left her home country.

After the initial month, when she experienced a high sense of enthusiasm and curiosity towards the new environment, she soon experienced and came to terms with the feeling of uncertainty, ambiguity and loss. She started feeling lonely and was missing her home friends and family. She would tell me, she found people to be distant and individualistic not placing the right significance on the values of family and friendship.

In addition, she perceived the weather to be one of her main concerns as she was used to a Mediterranean climate. As she had to support her studies of the English language she had to look for a part time job. When she started looking, she felt terribly stressed as she could hardly speak the language and people did not seem to be sympathetic with her situation.

Soon she felt anger towards the host people and the new way of doing things which she had to learn in order to carry out daily life activities. She would feel totally lost when taking the bus and the underground. Sometimes, she told me the bus did not even stop because it was too crowed and she was left standing outside in the rain in disbelief as in her home country buses would stop anyway to try to get as many people on. Moreover, she did not pay attention to the queue lines and found getting shouted at for jumping the queue.

The work interviews were a complete failure as her language skills were not good enough. As a result of these incidents, she considered going back home as the stress was too much to bear. Confronted with a sense of failure, she then decided to stay and undertake the challenge of fitting in the new environment, no matter how hard it would have been to succeed. At this stage, she focused more on her language studies and prepared a speech for the interviews. After many rejections, she was so stubborn that she found a job in a fast food chain in central London. She felt reborn, she made friends at work and felt her language skills were improving day by day. She felt part of the host country’s social life and began to embrace those cultural differences which previously made her feel stressed and miserable.

At times she would still experience a sense of loss and uncertainty but she would cope with difficulties in a much better way which did not result in major crises. Over time, this cyclical process of adjustment became more and more rewarding until when she was actually able to master the host country language and deal with people from different backgrounds. Believing in her abilities, she decided to further her studies and ended up going to University and working in a office. Eventually, what it was supposed to be a sojourn of one year resulted in a stay of several years during when she developed valuable new skills and improved her existing ones.

For more information please contact me at raffaella@languagesalive.com

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Living abroad makes you a better person


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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.

This concept was expressed by J.W. Berry (2006) who developed four acculturation options which are: assimilation, integration, rejection and deculturation. Berry (2006), preferred the term of “acculturative stress” to culture shock and was able to identify the acculturation process by gathering positive or negative answers to the following questions: “Is my cultural identity of value to be retained?” and “Are positive relations with the larger (host/dominant) culture to be sought?”

A. Furnham and S. Bochner (1986) took a step further and identified the potentially positive consequences of culture shock as part of the cultural learning process. The two researchers support a social skill approach to culture shock, where the sojourner learns the skills, roles, and rules in order to fit in the new environment. They also identified six classes of dependent variables which take place during the adjustment process and are able to work as a predictor in determining how and if the individual will be affected by culture shock. These variables are: (1) The control of conditions for initiating contact with the host culture, (2) Several intrapersonal factors such as age, previous travel experience, language skills, personal resilience, tolerance of uncertainty, personality features and more personal factors. (3) Physical health will also establish the outcomes of culture shock. (4) Interpersonal variables, such as benefiting from support and having a defined role are definitively important factors, (5) The characteristics of the host culture itself will be an important factor, (6) the geopolitical conditions in the host culture at the time of contact will be an important factor (Furnham, 1988 cited in Pedersen 1995).

According to Furnham and Bochener (1986) the outcome of cultural contact will be negative or positive depending on these variables. In this way, learning another culture actually combines the culture-learning model with a social-skills model.

For further information please contact me on raffaella@languagesalive.com