Culture Shock and its Perception by Sojourners in the USA: an exploratory study

Culture Shock and its Perception by Sojourners in the USA: an exploratory study
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     European J. Cross-Cultural Competence and Management, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2009 97  Copyright © 2009 Inderscience Enterprises Ltd. Culture shock and its perception by sojourners in theUSA: an explorative study Diana Petkova Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication,Sofia University ‘St. Kliment Ohridski’,49 ‘Moskovska’ Str., Sofia 1000, BulgariaFax: +359 2 986 17 24 E-mail: Abstract: This paper presents the results of an intercultural study done at theUniversity of Massachusetts at Amherst, USA in the period September 2006 toFebruary 2007 when 23 informants from 17 countries were interviewed face-to-face and recorded on tapes. It outlines three distinct phases in the perception of culture shock:1 unawareness2 partial awareness3 full awarenessand argues that culture shock appears out of the conflict between local codesand perceived meanings. The process of cultural hybridisation is a naturaloutcome of the coping strategies with culture shock. However, the paper alsoargues that full adaptation is not at all equal to cultural assimilation. Keywords: culture shock; perception; sojourners; adaptation; cultural identity;cultural hybridisation; cultural assimilation. Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Petkova, D. (2009)‘Culture shock and its perception by sojourners in the USA: an explorativestudy’,  European J. Cross-Cultural Competence and Management  , Vol. 1, No. 1, pp.97–115. Biographical notes: Diana Petkova is a PhD in sociology and an AssistantProfessor at Sofia University ‘St. Kliment Ohridski’, Bulgaria. She is an Author of the books  National Identity and Globalization and  Balkanization – the Other  Face of Globalization (in Bulgarian) and Co-author of   National Identities and  Images (in English). She has been a Visiting Professor in several universities,among which are the universities of Tampere, Jyvaskyla, Vaasa and Helsinki,(Finland), University of Leipzig (Germany), University of Massachusetts atAmherst, San Jose State University, California (the USA) and Osaka UniversityJapan. 1   Introduction During the last few decades considerable literature has been compiled on the question of culture shock in the intercultural studies. Most of the authors view culture shock either asa state or as a process, which develops through different stages. They also underline theconsequences from it, both positive and negative. Culture shock is studied in relation to   98  D. Petkova individual’s abilities to cope with it and to adapt to a new cultural environment. However,very little attention has been paid so far to the perception of culture shock by those whoare exposed to the new culture. On the basis of empirical data from an intercultural studythis paper will outline the perception of culture shock by sojourners in the USA and themain phases individuals pass until they fully recognise they suffer from culture shock. Table 1 Main characteristics of the informants  Informant Gender Age Nationality 1 Female 23 Nepal2 Female 18 Vietnam3 Male 27 Romania4 Male 21 India5 Female 22 Pakistan6 Female 26 India7 Female 22 Japan8 Male 21 Bangladesh9 Female 18 India10 Male 19 India11 Female 26 China12 Female 28 Russia13 Male 31 Iran14 Male 32 India15 Female 37 South Korea16 Male 40 Nigeria17 Female 32 Bulgaria18 Female 37 Italy19 Male 29 Spain20 Male 34 Ecuador 21 Female 25 Iraq22 Female 19 Nepal23 Male 27 Bangladesh The study was done at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, USA in the periodSeptember 2006 to February 2007. Twenty-three informants from 17 countries wereinterviewed face-to-face from 40 min. to one hour and 15 min. and recorded on tapes.The informants came from the following countries: Bangladesh, Bulgaria, China,Ecuador, Japan, India, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, SouthKorea, Spain and Vietnam (Table 1). At the time of the interviews the sojourners hadstayed in the USA from three weeks to six years. They were asked about their experiences and difficulties in encountering a foreign culture.In comparing the data received from the interviews the paper will outline a particular model of emergence and development of culture shock in people’s perceptions. Also, itwill study what the relations are between the perceived culture shock on one hand and themodifications of cultural identity, on the other.    Culture shock and its perception by sojourners in the USA 99   2 The concepts of culture shock and adaptation This study focuses on sojourners in the USA and on their cross-cultural experiences. Thevery term ‘sojourner’, although frequently used in North America, needs clarification. Itis accepted that a sojourner spends a medium length of time (six months to five years) ata place, usually intending to return back home. Thus tourists spend too short a periodoversees to be defined sojourners and migrants (and refugees) too long a period[Furnham, (1987), p.43]. Such a definition raises many unresolved questions. There are people who have entered the USA as immigrants. Although they have spent only monthsor even days on the new continent, they cannot be thought of as sojourners. And viceversa, others have spent six and even more years in the country but they do not consider themselves immigrants nor do they apply for an official status of immigrants. Moreover,one who temporarily stays in the USA may in the long run become an immigrant.Similarly, some of the people interviewed in this study declare their intention to get permission for a permanent stay in the USA. This means that they have already adoptedsome behaviour patterns of immigrants. All this is a proof that in certain cases it is hardly possible to differentiate between immigrants and sojourners. But for practical reasons inthis study the term ‘sojourner’ is used to designate a person who temporarily stays in theUSA.The concept of ‘culture shock’ was first introduced by Oberg (1958) who indicatedwith it the distress experienced by sojourners as a result of loosing all familiar cues, signsand symbols from their physical and social environment. According to the researcher the psychological consequences from it can be a sense of loss and feelings of deprivation,confusion, anxiety, disgust and indignation. Later culture shock is associated not onlywith the experiences of sojourners but also of immigrants, tourists and travellers. For allof them the constant demand of coping with differences in climate, housing,transportation, food and social norms leads to frustration and sometimes to a sense of worthlessness [Brislin, (1981), p.138]. However, immigrants and sojourners are moreaffected by the new culture than the other two categories.In the literature of intercultural studies culture shock is always related to individuals’mobilisation of their survival instincts. Thus culture shock is studied and analysed as astress due to the necessity to adjust oneself to a new physical and cultural environment.Ward et al. (2001) describe three dimensions of culture shock – affective, behaviouraland cognitive. Affectively, sojourners often experience negative feelings at the initialstages: bewilderment, confusion, anxiety and disappointment. Behaviourally, they aretotally lost in terms of how to communicate with their hosts and how to upholdthemselves in a proper manner. And cognitively, they face new unfamiliar socialdiscourses. In this respect Furnham and Bochner (1982) prove the relationship betweenculture distance and social difficulty in the host country. The more distant the sojourner’snative culture from the host culture is, the more difficult his or her adaptation becomes.The scholars view culture shock not as a deficiency in the personality or culturalsocialisation of sojourner but rather as a lack of given social skills with which tonegotiate social situations in the host country (see also Furnham, 1987).According to some scholars, culture shock can be experienced not only by separateindividuals but also by collectives. Thus Fink and Holden (2002) coin the term ‘collectiveculture shock’ to designate with it traumatic state related to severe economic and socialtransitions. The authors show that in the post-socialist countries of Eastern and CentralEurope collective culture shock is the product of complex economic, social and political   100  D. Petkova forces specific to the situation in each country. However, here in this study culture shock is examined on the level of the separate individual and it is supposed that it is a psychological phenomenon of cultural perception and adaptation.The existing literature on intercultural contacts dwells on the development of cultureshock through different phases:1 fascination with the new culture2 hostility and frustration3 acceptance and adaptation (Hall, 1959; Smalley, 1963; Adler, 1987; Furnham andBochner, 1982; Ting-Toomy and Chung, 2005).In examining sojourners’ experiences from a developmental perspective, Lysgaard (1955) proposes the U-curve model of the sojourners’ adjustment process. According to themodel the intercultural adaptation includes:1 initial adjustment2 crisis3 regained adjustment.Initially sojourners experience a honeymoon stage, then they undergo a crisis or stressful phase and finally they find the psychological balance in managing their adaptation to thenew cultural setting.In extending the U-curve model, Gullahorn and Gullahorn (1963) propose a six stageW-shaped model, which includes the successive stages:1 honeymoon2 hostility3 humorous4 in-sync adjustment5 reentry culture shock 6 resocialisation.At the first stage sojourners are excited about their new cultural environment. They arecurious about their hosts and the new culture. In the hostility stage they loseself-confidence and feel incompetent. They start to either fight or blame the new culturefor all the arising problems. At the humorous stage sojourners laugh at their mistakes or wrong interpretations of other people’s behaviour. Thus, in the next in-sync adjustmentstage they start feeling ‘at home’ in the new cultural environment and experience identitysecurity. This leads to the reentry culture shock stage where individuals feel bewilderment and disappointment because they have to cope with an unanticipated crisisin their native cultural environment. And in the final resocialisation stage they adaptdifferently to their home culture. Some return to their previous roles, others can never ‘click’ back to the old setting and become global nomads and yet, others become agentsof change in their home organisations and countries.Ting-Toomy and Chung (2005) revise the W-shaped model and propose a newextended W-shaped model, which includes seven stages. According to them there is an    Culture shock and its perception by sojourners in the USA 101   ambivalence stage, which sojourners experience between their in-sync adjustment and thereentry shock. In the ambivalence stage individuals experience mixed feelings of grief,nostalgia and pride, relief and sorrow that they are going home. They recall their earlydays in the host culture and look forward to sharing their intercultural stories with their family and friends at home. Finally they say goodbye to their newly found friends and tothe host culture. At the next stage, according to the authors, because of its unanticipatednature the reentry shock is often harder than the initial entry shock. Individualsunderstand that some of the newly acquired values, emotional patterns and behaviours areeither unfamiliar or unaccepted in their own culture. They may turn into alienatedreturnees but on the other hand there is the more positive option for them to apply theknowledge gained in the host country to their own culture.Thus in all the developmental models proposed in the academic literature the accentis put on the specific development of culture shock through different stages.Simultaneously almost no attention is paid when exactly and how individuals start to perceive the fact that they are experiencing culture shock.Gudykunst and Hammer (1988, p.132) discover that intercultural adaptation is afunction of uncertainty reduction. Most often culture shock appears out of uncertainty.The latter is understood as individuals’ inability to predict their own and others’ beliefsand attitudes (cognitive uncertainty) as well as their own and others’ behaviour in a givensituation (behavioural uncertainty) (see also Gudykunst, 1989). The reduction of uncertainty means for sojourners to overcome their culture shock.Although many scholars underline the negative experiences related to culture shock,there are some positive interpretations of it too. For instance, Adler (1987, p.30) definesculture shock as a cross-cultural learning experience. As a result of it individuals becomeaware of their own growth, learning and change. It is in this direction that the positiveoutcomes of culture shock should be sought. Among the best strategies to cope with it isthe increasing of individuals’ communication competence, expressed in their knowledgeof the host country as well as in their empathy (Rothwell, 2000). Empathy is the ability of individual to see the world through the eyes of others and thus to better understand their thoughts and feelings.On the basis of some empirical data from Canada, Berry et al. (1988) conclude thatculture shock followed by the adjustment of immigrants and sojourners results inacculturation. The latter term is defined by them as ‘culture change that results fromcontinuous firsthand contact between two distinct cultural groups’. According to theauthors acculturation may be expressed in physical, social, cultural and psychologicalchanges. This fact can be treated both positively and negatively. In adapting to a newenvironment immigrants and sojourners may increase their knowledge and interculturalabilities. In other cases they might feel they have totally lost in the new culture, while insome others they can really be assimilated. Thus acculturation and sometimes evenassimilation are seen as a final stage of culture shock.On the grounds of the intercultural study done in Massachusetts this paper will focuson the sojourners’ perceptions of the new culture and on their feelings and thoughts inencountering it. It will look for answers to the following questions: How do sojourners perceive themselves in the new environment? To what extent do they accept or reject the basic values, attitudes and ways of life in the host country? Do they really want to beintegrated in the new culture or they consciously disintegrate from it? And also, what arethe main phases of perception of culture shock and when do exactly individuals knowthey are experiencing it?
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