Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds In this segment I’d like to talk about some of the processes and phases that people may encounter when they cross into new cultural situations. There have been a number of models proposed over the years, and I want to bring some of them up now. One of the earliest was a simple model called the U-curve, that is, the letter U. And it highlighted three specific points that people may go through in this process. The first one was called the honeymoon stage. The second one, the dip, was called the culture shock phase. And then we have the adjustment rise as it went up. Now, not everybody goes through those phases in that strict sequence.
Skip to 0 minutes and 49 seconds But the U-model gives us a kind of orientation to what you may expect when you go into new cultural situations. So let me illustrate some of the issues or ideas that may help you better understand each phase. Whenever we prepare to go somewhere, often a certain amount of enthusiasm and excitement begins to build. We read up on the place. We get excited about certain ideas or expectations that we may face. And that positive energy often carries us as we enter the new situation. It allows us to see things with new eyes, and experiences are fresh and exciting.
Skip to 1 minute and 29 seconds And we often call this the honeymoon phase, just as a newlywed couple looks into each other’s eyes and gets quite excited for a period of time. But there are a varieties of honeymoons, as well, some are very rich and luxurious. Others are very short lived, and we suddenly face reality quicker than we would like or expect. In the same way, the honeymoon phase in cross cultural orientations may be long or they’re short, and some people may not have it much at all. If you have a soft entry into a new culture then be thankful.
Skip to 2 minutes and 5 seconds Because you do have a chance to use all that positive energy and those very enthusiastic orientations to allow you to engage and learn as much about the people and place as possible before the next phase comes. But also realise, even if you’re doing very well, everyone needs to confront differences, and these wear on us in different ways. Though phase two might not be as pronounced of culture shock as that particular word applies. And we have to realise that we are all much more globally exposed than people were a generation or two ago and not much shocks us.
Skip to 2 minutes and 48 seconds Nevertheless, as we adjust, even with lots of enthusiasm, day by day, cultural differences, unexpected circumstances, relationships that are confusing, codes we can’t quite figure out, ambiguities, differences, change, a sense of loss or displacement, all of these things work together. And we start to realise, oh, my, I’m not doing as well. And these effects of what we call culture shock begin to wear on us. Unfortunately, no amount of positive intentions can maintain our upbeat psychology forever. At some point we wear down, we become irritable, we might even lose our temper. We start to feel displaced or alienated or have deep pangs of homesickness. That might lead to a sense of tiredness, and we just want to sleep all the time.
Skip to 3 minutes and 45 seconds Or the opposite, we can’t sleep at all because our mind’s working about all these new things that we’re experiencing. And in this process, it helps us to realise this is probably the culture stress phase, and I need to face it. And in fact, facing it has benefits because according to Young Yun Kim’s theory on cultural adjustment, there’s a typical stress, adaptation, growth process, a type of concentric circle. And so whenever we go through this downward turn, and realise, I can deal with it, and learn and grow, we come back up, and often we come higher. And so it increases our long term cultural resilience. So that’s the U-curve.
Skip to 4 minutes and 31 seconds It describes typical, short term experiences, and your experience may not follow it exactly. But even though researchers never shown it to be consistent with everyone, it provides a kind of marker or model for you to think about, and perhaps go through each step more clearly. An advancement on that is the W-curve. Not only going somewhere is important to adjust, but also coming back. And so we have a W. The same process of expecting to come home, and being excited, and suddenly facing changes affects us on the return. And sometimes this is shocking. Return entry shock can be very pronounced because who would think that my home would change?
Skip to 5 minutes and 23 seconds But while we were away things have happened in our home situation, many of them that we were not emotionally connected to or didn’t fully experience. We’ve changed, and suddenly here are these two changed worlds coming together, my family or my work situation expectations, my own. And we can go through that U process all over again. And sometimes it can be quite difficult. Recently, several of my graduate students have returned from year-long stays overseas. And they report it’s been very difficult coming back. They even expected it to some degree. But readjusting to how they’ve developed, their new worldview, perspectives here that have changed nationally, these are not easy fits.
Skip to 6 minutes and 12 seconds But again, based on Young Yun Kim’s theory, it’s a very helpful stress, adaptation, change process. And it begins to help us cycle, and actually, through each of these we come to a higher level. We might become more fit, more capable of future adaptations because of the ones we’re going through now. These can contribute to our growth, even though they’re sometimes very difficult to face. And so this process, we propose, is a good one. So whether it’s the U-curve of a short term study abroad visit or a business day. Whether it’s the W-curve of going, and coming, and then perhaps, going again. Our proposal is, it’s actually a wave theory of cross cultural adjustments.
Skip to 7 minutes and 0 seconds Think about most adjustment processes you know of in your life. A new marriage, interesting, the first year is often very difficult. Somewhere around year seven, you’ve heard of the seven-year-itch, sometimes 10 or 15 years. Often marriages break up after their 25th anniversary because they’ve lived for their children, their children moved on. What happens is that sometimes things are changing without us being aware. We all want to find a kind of status quo. We want to say, I’ve adjusted, I’m doing well. But if there are change factors we have to be ready to keep changing with them. In Young Yun Kim’s model, what I’m calling a wave, is actually shown by concentric spirals.
Skip to 7 minutes and 46 seconds Each spiral takes us through a deepening process, but each one comes up a little higher because it shows growth or what she would call personhood, intercultural personhood. Adler called it multicultural personhood. The point is, is this process of dealing with cultural stress and awareness, in the end, changes how we view ourselves, how we become more sensitive to viewing the context around us, how we begin to think about how we should respond or how we evaluate how others respond. And all of these promote personhood or development. We hope that being more aware of this process will also help you as you face whatever cultural challenges there might be in the future.
Engaging in intercultural adaptation processes
This video explains some noted adaptation processes that most people go though. The stress, adaptation, and growth model in particular shows how cross-cultural challenges help develop intercultural communication competence.
This video provides an overview of many of the topics and themes further explained in the next reading. Listen first, then read the download provided in the next step. Throughout both steps, you can reflect further on your own awareness of adjustments, and how you have seen them occuring in your own experiences or others.
As a recommended reading, you might want to look at how the author of the stress-adaptation-growth process describes her ideas on these processes (in particular, note pp. 4,5 of the downloadable article by Young Yun Kim).
Kim, Y. Y. (2012). From ascription to achievement: The case for identity adaptation and transformation in the globalizing world. In X. D. Dai & S. J. Kulich (Eds.), Intercultural adaptation (I): Theoretical explorations and empirical studies. Intercultural research, Vol. 6 (pp. 31-49). Shanghai, China: Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press.
© Shanghai International Studies University