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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds [ZHANG Hongling] While most of us have emphasised the value of culture shock as an enriching and rewarding process, actually, culture shock does bringing people a lot of pain and struggle. [Steve Kulich] One of the critics of this field sometimes, of intercultural training, is that we seem to be promoting too much positive attitudes and your own behaviour modification, and not enough of some of the historical realities that we have to face. So there is a both end process here. [ZHANG Hongling] So I think that we should give some suggestions to our students as to how to maximize the positive effects and minimize the negative effects. [Steve Kulich] I think that’s, again, both /and.

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 seconds We do have to think about, there are realistic challenges, but we also can improve the way we deal with them. What are the suggestions you would give for such a meeting of culture shock? [ZHANG Hongling] OK, the first suggestion now is to keep our mind open and increase our motivation to learn. We often say that one is never too old to learn, so here in intercultural adaptation, we do need to increase our motivation to learn about the new culture. [Steve Kulich] A lot of intercultural training focus on train to help us see things we didn’t see before, hear things we may not have been able to listen to before, and learn new ways of doing things.

Skip to 1 minute and 34 seconds So it’s a kind of expansion of our options. [ZHANG Hongling] Yeah, sure, I agree. And the second suggestion is that we do need to recognize that we are actually experiencing culture shock, and lower our expectations. Because knowing is usually very important, if you wish to know how. [Steve Kulich] One of the big problems you’ll see in a lot of literatures is the issue of denial. Most of us want to feel stronger, and say, I’m OK, no problem! In fact those are often the people who are having the biggest problems, because it’s a kind of cover-up.

Skip to 2 minutes and 9 seconds But this willingness to recognize, this is challenging, and I may need to do something and ask for help or be engaged with others is very important. [ZHANG Hongling] Exactly. The third implication or suggestion is that, as you know, intercultural adaptation usually takes place in a new and strange environment. So uncertainty, ambiguity are commonplace. So for those who are experiencing intercultural adaptation, we do need to learn to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. Do you think it’s important? [Steve Kulich] Very important. And I think one of the challenges is that cultural spaces are mixing and emerging, so sometimes we suddenly encounter cultural otherness in places we don’t expect.

Skip to 2 minutes and 59 seconds In a restaurant, in the line at a movie, everyday it occurrences because of the World’s People and cultural groups having more contact. So whenever we sense that something is going on I don’t know, trying to ask what it might be and begin the process of exploration I think is helpful. [ZHANG Hongling] I find that we Chinese do we need to learn to be more adventurous, right? Especially when we are in a new environment. [Steve Kulich] It could be some Westerners are too adventurous, so having that kind of, I can do it, spirit could also be a challenge.

Skip to 3 minutes and 34 seconds So probably, this is again where learning about middle ground ways, it’s neither this extreme or that extreme, but finding a way to be more sensitive to both options it’s very helpful. [ZHANG Hongling] Sure. The fourth suggestion is to me, a very important tip. When you are in foreign environment, you usually feel rather lonely, so developing social support now is of particular importance. For example, we need to make friends, we need to develop acquaintances, with both your friends from your home country or friends from the local community. And also develop friendships with people from other parts of the world. Now all this may help you overcome your isolation, loneliness. [Steve Kulich] Social networking is clearly very important.

Skip to 4 minutes and 33 seconds In fact, several of our students have studied how even social network platforms and the media can help. What we find though, is that you may feel more comfortable at the beginning if you relate to a lot of people from your own cultural background, but long term that might hinder you. So what you just said is very important, it’s to relate to different social groups. People like me, so I can talk how I feel, people a bit different from me so I can begin to move out of that. And then maybe some people who are also overseas or foreigners, but who can empathise with some aspects, but not let me be too much of my own kind. [ZHANG Hongling] Agree.

Skip to 5 minutes and 11 seconds The fifth suggestion is don’t be judgmental, and try to suspend your ethnocentrism. And by ethnocentrism, we usually mean that people tend to judge others’ behaviour or speech according to their own norms and values. [Steve Kulich] There seems to be something in all of us that says, that’s OK, but I’m right. Or my way of doing things is the best. And so how do you propose that we overcome this kind of default position of going back to my way, versus your way. [ZHANG Hongling] In fact that’s human nature, to be ethnocentric, and this, in fact, constitutes the biggest barrier to intercultural adaptation, so we do need intercultural training or education, right? To help people overcome the negative effects of ethnocentrism.

Skip to 6 minutes and 6 seconds [Steve Kulich] A lot of these training exercises that we’ve engaged in, in this course we’re meant to help broaden your perspective. And I think to help us be more relative, to understand there’s a wider range than I thought possible. And yet we do have to know what our own values and beliefs are, and not violate them. But sometimes we can have more negotiating room that we sometimes give ourselves. [ZHANG Hongling] Sure, yeah. Still another useful tip is to try new things, maintain our sense of humour, and laugh at our own errors. Do you do this? [Steve Kulich] I do. And laughter can be very, very helpful. I laugh more myself now.

Skip to 6 minutes and 48 seconds One problem is when groups from one culture get together and laugh at the other. That’s not always so helpful, and sometimes we make jokes that we should. But being able to realise that some of the things you do are actually quite funny when looked at from a more objective point of view. So I think, as you’ve mentioned before, not taking ourselves too seriously. [ZHANG Hongling] So do you think that the sense of humour could be trained after birth, or is it something that people were born with? [Steve Kulich] Probably both. Some people are more humorous than others.

Skip to 7 minutes and 22 seconds Some cultures like humour more than others, but I think all of us can learn to appreciate humour more than we do, and realise the taking things easy or being able to laugh can really be a way to release tension sometimes. [ZHANG Hongling] So I often tell my students, don’t be afraid of making mistakes. More mistakes you make the better you will learn, and this also applies to intercultural adaptation. [Steve Kulich] And sometimes those are the best stories in the future when you’re telling your friends about some of the mistakes you made. Then you can really laugh. It’s not always easy to laugh in the situation.

Skip to 7 minutes and 56 seconds So, yeah, all of these I think give us a basis for evaluating what we’ve learned in the course, thinking about how to use it in these kind of cultural challenging situations, and move toward developing more intercultural competence. [ZHANG Hongling] I do hope now this course has successfully help our students develop their intercultural competence. Especially the ability to overcome all the barriers of intercultural adaptation.

Skip to 8 minutes and 25 seconds [Steve Kulich] We probably haven’t dealt with all the barriers, but hopefully we’ve at least given a beginning that allows you to move forward and reflect on, what are my values and my identities, what are the ways in which I like to communicate, and find not so easy, and now how can I be better at adaptation in this process? [ZHANG Hongling] Let’s enjoy the process of intercultural communication. [Steve Kulich] It’s been a wonderful time exploring it with each of you, and we hope that exploration continues together.

Adopting strategies for personal development

This video points out approaches that might help you overcome the negative effects of culture shock. We introduce strategies and tips to facilitate your intercultural adaptation process, and summarize course outcomes.

Culture shock is best seen from the “both/and” perspective: both an enriching and also a painful process, both with positive outcomes and also realistic stressful challenges. Here are some suggestions to help each of us as learners keep engaging in this process constructively:

  1. Keep an open mind and increase our motivation to learn; Seek to see, hear, learn, understand what we didn’t before.

  2. Recognize that we may be experiencing this shock process; Don’t deny it, realistically lower expectations, face it.

  3. Expect uncertainty, ambiguity, and strangeness in new environments; Seek to be tolerant of and to understand things that are not clear; Expect to encounter new cultures in unexpected places; Be ready to be more adventurous, ready to encounter newness, explore.

  4. Develop social support networks to overcome loneliness; Try to meet new people, develop acquaintances, make new friends; Use social media to stay connected with home, friends (people “like me”), and reach out to and engage in new networks (people “different from me”).

  5. Try to be non-judgmental, suspend ethnocentrism (withhold own norms); Suspend our insistence that “my way is right” to consider other ways; Broaden our perspective, consider a wider range of options, negotiate; Maintain our own values with grace, but give due respect to others.

  6. Maintain a good sense of humor, able to laugh at yourself; Don’t take ourself too seriously, or make other groups the laughing stock; Learn to take things easier, relax, let laughter help release tensions.

  7. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Learn through them and treasure them; Let such stories become part of our learning and connecting process.

This list can also serve as an overall course summary. These suggestions generally touch on new ways of looking at how we approach intercultural encounters, our and others’ identities, communication styles, values, and various adaptation processes.

In any of these areas, as we recognize, face, or overcome barriers, we expand our personal capacity to enhance our intercultural competence. Our goal for these weeks spent together has been to expose and orient you to these basic concepts, attitudes, and practices so you can develop as an interculturally competent communicator!

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This video is from the free online course:

Intercultural Communication

Shanghai International Studies University (SISU)